Profile – Renaissance man?

Chief executive, secretary general, big cheese: regardless of what it?s called, the top job at the English ICA is no walk in the park. When the institute advertised the #150,000 job, you could have been forgiven for thinking the council was looking for Superman. Fortunately, John Collier was on hand with his kryptonite, his tights and some impressive plans to modernise Moorgate Place.

Nevertheless, the new secretary general refutes the suggestion that the advert was written for him. ?I don?t know about Superman, but the ad certainly seemed to be looking for Renaissance man. I don?t know who else applied, but I know there were a good number of candidates, and I?m sure there were others who could have done the job. I?m just glad John Collier came closest to meeting the criteria.?

The toughest criterion was the requirement for the new chief to be a businessman, a chartered accountant and an administrator – all at the same time. Collier is a chartered accountant. He trained at Price Waterhouse and spent more than 20 years there – 12 as a partner. But he?s also a businessman, having worked as chief executive of the Newcastle Initiative, chief executive of a financial services company and financial director of the Millennium Commission and the Earth Centre. All these jobs were based in his native Tyneside, where he still lives.

But Collier makes no claim to be an administrator in the Andrew Colquhoun (his predecessor) mould, and he makes no apologies for this. ?The institute needs to be less of a civil service organisation and more of a business. In the past, it has been perceived as almost an organ of government, but we need it to be a business.?

Although at times the institute?s ?we will become a business? aim sounds like a banal mantra, Collier makes it seem a realistic prospect. He?s not a ?members run this institute? man, but he does see it as a partnership between the executive and the members. ?We need to identify the real areas of demand,? says Collier, ?especially from the 50,000 members who are in business. What is it they want?

?In the past, it?s tended to be a case of the council thinking ?this?ll be a good idea?, and then asking the membership whether it agrees. From now on, though, we want the ideas to be demand-led.?

To that end, Collier is planning a survey of the entire membership. He says they will use conventional market research, but hopes that in a couple of years such surveys will be simpler and more efficient thanks to modern technology.

?We?ve got 12,000 members with e-mail addresses, and more with access to the Internet. In a few years, we should be able to canvass the membership at the push of a button.?

Once Collier has identified what the membership wants, he is going to take a fresh look at the way the institute delivers it. Although he doesn?t say it in so many words, it sounds as if he plans to make the institute less of a service-provider in itself, and more of a facilities manager. ?We will have a look at the Ruser-paysS principles. Which core services should members receive for their annual membership fee, and how can those be improved? Once we?ve solved those questions we can look at more ?pay-for? services.?

Collier has a vision of members using the institute to improve their specialist skills, by organising life-long learning training courses. By the end of this year, he hopes to be able to offer three post-qualification awards. But these courses are likely to be run by specialist providers, not the institute.

?We will be gatekeepers more than anything else.?

Consequently there may be a little trimming of the administration. Although Collier stresses how highly he rates the institute?s staff, he admits it may be necessary to go for ?fewer, better-paid people?. He adds: ?We need to do less things better and to push up standards overall.?

The plethora of committees for which the institute has become renowned look certain to be reduced in number too. ?We need far fewer standing committees. The committees will just do the core work, while other matters will be handled by small working groups with finite lives,? says Collier. ?At present, there are about 150 committees doing a lot of things – some of which are very useful, but not all of them are highly relevant and well co-ordinated. Some of them are formed to do a set task, then kept running after the task is completed- just because they seem to be doing some good stuff.?

Some of these changes are likely to upset some of the members, but Collier has a good chance of improving on his predecessor?s record. If nothing else, the members are more likely to feel they can relate to a man who has signed off an audit, organised a major loan, and helped a business move into profit. ?We don?t want to be an impenetrable civil service,? he says. ?We want to be in touch with the members.?

Not Superman, maybe, but Collier certainly starts from a position of strength.

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