Bringing the COO to you
Posted 1st February 2018
Having worked with the Higher Education sector for over fifteen years, I have seen the full evolution and development of the Chief Operating Officer.
That said one size does not fit all and there are many variations on the theme. Some encompass all the professional services functions and some do not, typically leaving out Finance. COO hires are now tailored to the specific needs of the University at a particular time, often with a remit to deliver transformation and change (and/or efficiencies) and usually supporting a relatively new Vice Chancellor.
My first forays into this space were appointments of the traditional model of ‘university administrator’ such as the University Secretary within the Scottish system or the Registrar & Secretary at a leading north-east institution. These roles were statutory in nature, as much to do with governance as strategic leadership of the administrative side of the university. In new universities, I was involved in sourcing talent as the role of DVC Resources emerged moving from an academic to a professional appointment. Historically, these roles were the preserve of former Academic Registrars or Finance Directors. That has all changed. COOs now come from a range of backgrounds including Estates, Marketing, IT, Library and HR. All share an ability to impact at the strategic level against the backdrop of unprecedented change in the sector, and all are no longer limited by the scope of their discipline. As HEI’s develop increasing international footprints we are seeing the need for senior management to have an understanding of and preferably experience in international matters and business.
Recent briefs we have worked on have defined the role as ‘the Managing Director for the Business’ or ‘in effect a Transformation Director’ or better still a ‘remit to deliver innovation and growth.’ Each assignment is bespoke and we relish the different challenge each time. Key to our success in this area has been our ability to not only bring through the best talent from within but to also bring new talent with fresh ideas into the sector.
But what about the future? As the challenges facing the sector continue, we anticipate we will see COO’s continue to emerge where they do not currently exist and see remits evolve to reflect the challenges ahead. This will inevitably create a ripple effect below, as the day to day running of HEI’s needs to be informed by commercial acumen we expect to see that business management and business development skills will become more important in the sub-structures underneath the COO. Moreover, having closely observed a recent successful example already, I expect to see more COOs move ultimately into the CEO role supported and complemented by a ‘Chief Academic Officer’ or Provost. Interesting times ahead.
Posted by Mike Dixon
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