Griffith University Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Ian O’Connor, has welcomed the University’s new Chancellor, Mr Henry Smerdon AM DUniv.
Mr Smerdon commenced in the role of Chancellor today (June 1), following the retirement of The Honourable Ms Leneen Forde AC. Mr Smerdon is Griffith University’s fifth Chancellor.
“Mr Smerdon has had a long association with the University, having first been appointed as a Governor in Council member of the University Council in 1997,” said Professor O’Connor.
“In 2000, he was elected by Council to the position of Deputy Chancellor and he continued in this role for the next 15 years.
“Mr Smerdon’s experience and wise counsel have proved invaluable to Council and to management over his many years of service. He has chaired the Finance, Resources and Risk Committee since 2000 and he is an ex officio member of a number of other key University Committees.”
Mr Smerdon’s distinguished finance career dates back to the 1980s. He was a senior executive at Queensland Treasury, where he served as Under Treasurer and Under Secretary from 1989-94. He was also the Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Investment Corporation from 1995-98 and he was the Government Statistician for Queensland from 1990-95.
Furthermore, he has been a member of, and made significant contributions to, many boards and committees over several decades, particularly in the finance, education and arts sectors. His extensive contributions were recognised in 2010 when he was appointed a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM).
In the following interview, Mr Smerdon outlines his vision for the role of Chancellor and Griffith University’s future.
Chancellor, what do you see as the most important aspects of the Chancellor’s role?
I see the role of Chancellor as being multi-faceted. On the one hand there are the representational and ceremonial responsibilities of the role. However, the Chancellor, as chair of the governing Council, also has similar responsibilities to those of the chair of a major public company board.
There is the need to set the overall strategy for the University, approve the annual budget and put in place appropriate policies and procedures for the effective governance of the University.
The Chancellor needs to provide appropriate leadership of, and guidance to, Council to make sure these functions are effectively achieved.
Griffith has been fortunate over the years that the governing Council has provided strong guidance and support for the Vice Chancellor which has underpinned the acknowledged success of Griffith. I have had the privilege of being a member of Council for the past 18 years.
You’re taking on the role of Chancellor at an extremely interesting time for tertiary education and after the notable stewardship of Ms Leneen Forde. What are you looking forward to in your role as Chancellor of Griffith University?
Leneen has been a great Chancellor and leaves a great legacy. I certainly enjoyed working closely with her over the past 15 years in what were challenging, but also very exhilarating times in which we saw much growth and success for Griffith.
We have built a great platform for the future underpinned by a strong balance sheet and disciplined fiscal management that create the opportunities for our wonderful and talented staff to deliver high quality academic and research programs that have been the hallmark of our success.
I am really excited about the opportunity to continue to play a part in Griffith’s continuing success story, albeit in a different role.
Griffith is a young university growing rapidly in terms of facilities, numbers and reputation. What are the qualities such an institution should embrace as it grows? What should people think when they think of Griffith?
Griffith has long prided itself on being a university that offers the opportunity for people to succeed irrespective of their social or economic background and circumstance.
I am a strong believer in the proposition that every person who genuinely aspires to obtaining a university qualification ought to have the opportunity to do so. We work hard to achieve this.
We have created numerous pathways for aspiring individuals to join our university. Our mantra is “Know more. Do more”. This is not just some slick marketing blurb. It is something we truly believe.
Knowing more and doing more are not only personally rewarding, but there is a great contribution to be made to our economic and community wellbeing and prosperity.
Griffith was born to be different. We have made the unique educational experience a cornerstone of who we are and I suspect that is what we will continue to be known for.
We seek to produce the unique graduate, one who understands the social issues and the social and community responsibility that comes with being a Griffith graduate.
We believe in gender equality and we have been recognised for a number of years as being an excellent employer in the gender equity space.
What do I want people to think of when they think of Griffith? I particularly want our graduates to be able to say: “Griffith played a major part in who I am today. It gave me the opportunity. It was there when I needed it. It believed in me and supported me. And I was valued and continue to be valued for the contribution I make to the community around me.”
If we can achieve this, we should feel justly proud of ourselves. Our graduates are probably our greatest ambassadors in the community. If we have got it right, people will see us as a high quality institution well connected with the community we serve and providing the highest quality educational opportunity for all those who seek to achieve their life ambitions.
You’ve had an influential career in business, development, government and the arts. What are the benefits of such broad experience as you assume the role of Chancellor?
I have been very fortunate to have had such a diverse set of career experiences. Each of those experiences has contributed to who I am, how I operate and the skills and abilities I am able to bring to the tasks at hand.
Having a long career in government has been very helpful in dealing with the bureaucracy and the political environment, important as these are to the tertiary sector in which we operate.
My role in the State Treasury and also more latterly in the corporate environment sharpens one’s focus on the bottom line and the wisdom and benefits of having a strong, disciplined approach to financial management. Griffith’s ongoing and relatively strong financial position has been instrumental in supporting its growth strategy.
And, of course, the arts keeps the creative juices flowing and reinforces the need for, and importance of, connectivity with our stakeholders and the public at large.
In your view, what is the role and value of education?
A simple question that has many complexities. My own views on the value of education were shaped initially by my father who, despite his own paucity of formal education, believed passionately in its value.
To me, education provides the key to opportunities to live a productive and fulfilling life. It is instrumental to achieving our life aspirations, no matter how big or small. It is important in skills development for career purposes, but also for knowledge enhancement and personal growth.
I don’t think anyone doubts the value of formal education and the part it plays in improving our quality of life through economic prosperity, better healthcare and the like. It is why the community is prepared to devote significant resources to foster educational opportunities for all.
I must admit that I do have a slightly wider view of education. Important though formal education is, I see each day as an opportunity to learn something new, whether it be small or big, important or trivial. To me life is one great educational experience from which I have yet to graduate!
And as I like to remind our graduates, learning doesn’t stop with the formal qualification. Learning is a continuous process of which formal education is an essential but not exclusive element. And it is life-long.
On the more personal side, what do you do to relax? Do you have down time?
I have always lived a busy life. It seems to be part of my DNA. I am passionate about the performing arts and get to the theatre whenever I can. I had the great privilege and pleasure to be on the board of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre for more than 13 years so I was able to indulge the passion and at the same time position the Centre as probably the leading facility in Australia and increasingly recognised as such internationally.
Apart from the theatre, I enjoy travel and the very occasional round of golf. I also have a keen interest in current affairs. However, given the amount of time I tend to spend away from the family, I like to give them priority over my own self-interests.
Do you have fond memories of your school days?
My memories of my own school days are probably not that memorable. I attended a State primary school and was quite a bright student. Consequently, there was an expectation and anticipation that I would do brilliantly at high school. That was not the case.
Much to my parents’ dismay, I left school at the end of Year 10 for a job in the public service. However, leaving school early did not diminish in my mind the importance of education in helping me to get on with life and career successfully, so I spent the next 14 years of my life doing the hard road of part-time study.
As I have subsequently learnt, it is the friendships and connections that are forged as part of the campus experience that are important in future life and career.
It is why I have always subscribed to the view that while technology enables us to deliver the educational experience in many new and exciting ways, including off-campus, the value of the community on campus should not be diminished and hopefully remains a critical part of what a university education should be about.
Finally, how important and beneficial is Griffith University’s location in South-East Queensland, one of the fastest growing areas in Australia?
Griffith has positioned itself as the provider of choice in the key Brisbane-Gold Coast corridor. Our positioning in one of the fastest growing areas in Australia has certainly contributed to our capacity to grow, but the multi-campus environment to service the area is not without its challenges.
Our task continues to be to provide the high quality products and services that the community expects and wants. We have worked hard to provide strong bonds with our marketplace and from where I sit, the future looks great and I am looking forward to continuing to be a part of it.