One of the most interesting parts of my job involves getting to meet lots of very interesting people. Last week, courtesy of The Saltire Foundation, I spent a couple of hours in my office talking to Gerald Chan, one of Hong Kong’s most successful entrepreneurs. He co-founded the international investment group, Morningside, and is a board member of one of the largest property companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange as well as several biotech companies. He came to Scotland to learn about innovation in Scotland’s universities.
He is a polymath and, for a wealthy man, has some surprising views about the social responsibilities that bind us all irrespective of national, ethnic or financial differences. Here’s what he said in his Commencement Speech delivered to students graduating at the Johns Hopkins University/Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. ‘The Baby Boomer generation in America basically overdosed on consumption’ ‘They consumed beyond their means, leaving to posterity, including you, a large debt burden………The American Baby Boomers are the most selfish generation that ever lived….’ And I don’t think he was referring to just Americans!
I was therefore pleased and considerably relieved to find that we held a number of views in common not least about the role of universities in research and innovation. For example we agreed that for Scotland and the UK to compete with the growth of China and other booming economies, the worst thing our universities could do would be to abandon blue skies research for applied research. The second worst thing we could do would be to ignore (as we have too often in the past) our role in innovation. In my book that role is to engage fully with the users of our research to accelerate its uptake whether that is for commercial, social or cultural outcomes. This kind of engagement also has benefits for our students seeing how their academic studies relate to the outside world. You can be sure these ideas will be at the front of my mind as we develop this university’s new academic strategy.