One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting ‘behind the scenes’ with senior leadership at UBC.
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Andrew Simpson joined UBC’s Executive in June 2015 to lead the university’s Finance portfolio across the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.
Born in New Zealand — but a holder of dual citizenship — Andrew brings 25 years of experience leading finance and operations portfolios for post-secondary institutions in both New Zealand and Canada.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
AS: I believe one of the most important aspects of great leadership is the ability to build confidence. Leaders are present throughout the university, and the ability to inspire confidence can occur at all levels. Some leaders are outward and exuberant in how they build confidence and others do it quietly. But the outcome is the same: they give people a sense of direction, and an appreciation of the road ahead.
What makes you laugh?
AS: Lots of things in life make me laugh, but my kids have always had a special ability to make me laugh… their silliness, their use of language and ability to see the peculiarities of life. They made me laugh when they were young and continue to as young adults (my son just turned 19 and my daughter is 20).
I also love classic British comedy such as Monty Python, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Blackadder.
Who inspires you, and why?
AS: I get inspired every day by the people I work with and meet. I have had the privilege of working at a number of exceptional universities and I am inspired by people at all levels of our great institutions, whether it be university presidents who have vision and wisdom; academic leaders who have passion for leading and developing world-class Faculties and departments; professors, teachers and researchers who have made world-leading discoveries; administrative leaders who build outstanding teams, and experts in wide ranging fields. It’s inspiring to be able to come to work alongside all these incredible people.
The teams I’ve had over the years have been a particular inspiration for me. They always give me tremendous ideas, and command respect for the leadership they provide.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
AS: Like many others, I’ve learnt not to get unduly worried about the future. It’s important to take opportunities today as they arise, and let the future take care of itself. Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you that you never expect.
What song did you used to sing out loud to as a teenager?
AS: I am a huge music fan, so that’s hard to choose! I used to sing ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean, as well as a diverse range of other music including the Eagles, Neil Young, Van Morrison and early stuff by U2.
How do you like to recharge?
AS: I try to run most days and I play the guitar as well. I’m a big sports fan. I like watching all sports… rugby, Canadian and American football, baseball, golf and hockey. I’m looking forward to getting behind the Canucks this winter!
How does higher education in Canada compare to New Zealand?
AS: Having worked in Ontario and now British Columbia, I can see that universities in these provinces are similar to those in New Zealand in many ways, including the overall structure of funding, relative levels of government support and tuition regulations that apply.
The main difference I have noticed is the size and scale of Canadian universities. As it’s a much larger country, universities in Canada have a much greater capacity to target big funding at a federal level in areas of research — which a small economy like New Zealand’s can’t support.
What is the best advice you were ever given?
AS: One of the wisest individuals I have had the privilege of knowing described universities as being like a ‘Perpetual Trust’: Perpetual because universities are multi-century; trusts because the work we do is not for our own reward, but for others, whether that be the future generations of students, faculty and staff, or the communities we serve. This changed the way I considered my role as a finance leader. I am, in a sense, a trustee, with the responsibility of stewarding the university for success now, but also for the future… the years and decades to come.
What do you value in your colleagues?
AS: I value working with colleagues who are curious, who seek advancement and improvement, who are not satisfied with the status quo, in all aspects of university life.
I also recognize the importance of respect for one another, no matter what level, or area, of the university we work.
Who are your favorite writers?
AS: I enjoy reading Clive James, John Le Carre, William Boyd, Bill Bryson, Ben Elton and Douglas Adams.
What would you like to be remembered for?
AS: I hope to be remembered for making a positive difference to the universities that I have had the privilege of working for.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
AS: Time travel. That way I could explore so many different places and times in history. That would be fascinating!
What are the priorities for the Finance portfolio moving forward?
AS: The focus for the leadership team right now is on defining our financial targets and the overarching financial strategy for the university. Work is also underway to renew the financial reporting package we put out on a quarterly basis.
On a university-wide level, we’ll be focusing on building upon the developments of recent years, including the integrated-distributed financial team that works with our Faculties and administrative units. We need to build the level of support we provide, and at the same time, explore opportunities to make our financial processes as efficient, effective and user-friendly as possible. The structure we need to deliver on this is already in place. Now it’s a matter of moving it forward.
For you, what makes UBC different?
AS: I have had a long-held respect for UBC. It has become one of the greatest public universities in the world, in a relatively short period of time. It has been aspirational, had ingenuity and focus, and has delivered on its goals. And it continues to aspire to do better.
The location is also remarkable. Not only is this campus located in one of the greatest young cities in the world, it’s on the pacific rim, which — for me — gives it a closer connection to my native country of New Zealand.
I have tremendous respect for those who have gone before and built the university; the programs and research focus and also the campus infrastructure. It’s outstanding. There’s no other way to describe it!