Reflections on my appointment to Vice-Provost (Development) at UCL

Lori Houlihan tracks her journey into senior leadership, and shares insight into UCL’s recently launched campaign — their biggest yet.

September 2016 turned out to be quite a month. It started with the announcement that I had been promoted to Vice-Provost (Development) at UCL, one of 7 Vice-Provosts reporting to the President and Provost of UCL, Professor Michael Arthur. It was also the month that we launched one of the biggest philanthropic campaigns in Europe — a campaign I’ve been working on and planning with colleagues from across the university for the last 5 years. Becoming a Vice-Provost of this global university has come about more recently, but of course the two events are linked. CASE asked me to share this journey, so here goes.

Advancement takes the lead

Michael Arthur talked about my promotion in a message to all staff where he said…

“….it’s recognition both of the success of our Development Office and also of the increasing profile of philanthropy to UCL... Lori is ideally placed to drive our transformation from a university with a fundraising office to a fundraising university, and her ability to contribute to UCL’s wider strategy and represent UCL at the highest level is of huge value.”

Working in advancement gives us a unique overview of our institutions and allows us to contribute in a very strategic and direct way to their development. We also play an important role in bringing the external world and outside perspective into our universities.

As we set about planning the current Campaign we did so in close consultation with the senior management team and the wider UCL academic community. Michael Arthur’s arrival in 2013 saw us take a much longer term view for UCL. This resulted in our new bold strategy — UCL 2034. The new strategy gave us the perfect platform to develop our fundraising priorities and shape our plans. In this long-term strategy, the campaign is both a specific objective in itself, but also a key enabler of all the others. We helped shape the strategy and now we will help deliver it. Since then much of my time has been spent building up the trust and confidence of my office within our academic community and shaping that philanthropic ambition and belief.

I’m convinced that at the time we launched the Campaign, my new role sent a very positive message to our many friends and supporters about the importance of philanthropy and our drive for increased supporter engagement. I also know from the many messages I’ve received from all over the sector the significance of my appointment.

It feels as if this and other recent appointments signal the start of a trend.

I have to thank Michael Arthur for his vision, ambition and trust in me. Last year he and Rex Knight the VP (Operations) supported me going on an advanced management programme at Columbia University. Professional development has always been important to me and this was a life changing opportunity. I’m proud to work in a university that supports and encourages equality and diversity and I was so pleased to get so many email messages and people stopping me on campus from all corners of UCL saying how my appointment was such a positive move.

One of the best messages I had after the announcement was “Really excellent news and you’ve just made UCL’s ‘Pyramid of Power’ infographic look a whole lot better!”

Other highlights of this remarkable September was being asked to be the Presiding Officer at one of our graduation ceremonies, another first for me and part of my new role. What a joy to be part of those wonderful moments in the academic year. I had so much fun meeting all the students and their families and have to admit to photo bombing a few family shots in my academic gown, something I picked up from Michael Arthur!!

Driving talent

Talking of talent, talent management and developing the team are one of my main passions and I am proud to lead such a professional and high-achieving team. They inspire me every day, I love seeing them develop in their roles and I learn so much from them.

I think my drive to encourage others to be the best they can be comes from my time at Aberdeen University working with Sir Duncan Rice, the former Principal and Vice Chancellor. Duncan was also the Chair of CASE Europe and a passionate advocate for the advancement profession. I learned so much from him. He set the bar so high because he knew what excellent looked like, the rest of us had to run fast to keep up with him. I made lots of mistakes, a very important part of any leader’s development, but I also had some amazing breakthroughs in my career there. Finding a mentor or someone to take inspiration from is important in any career and I still call upon Duncan for advice — as I did just the other day and he still keeps that bar high!

Finding a mentor or someone to take inspiration from is important in any career

A journey with CASE

Now to CASE. The CASE family were my go to when I moved from Scotland to London five years ago. Moyra Doyle, Tricia King and Joelle Du Lac helped me establish myself in this new wonderful City. I had always been involved with CASE and deliberately got more involved around 10 years ago, delivering sessions at conferences, being elected as a trustee and ultimately deputy chair of CASE Europe. I remember looking at all those leading lights at conferences thinking, wow they are so knowledgeable and engaging, I will never get to that point! Those people were my mentors and many are now my friends.

Now I am a Trustee- at- large of the main board, another huge honour that was announced in July. So the next stage of my CASE life continues and I am so excited to be working with the CASE global family. Sue Cunningham, President of CASE is an inspiring leader and the new strategy provides a deeply thoughtful response and visionary approach to how CASE will support our membership, it is so exciting for me to be part of making that vision a reality.

Our profession wouldn’t be what it is without the support of our education partners who provide consultancy, products and executive search expertise. I want to acknowledge and thank the contribution they have made to the campaign for UCL and to the profession more widely.

Finally, when you get the phone call or email from CASE, it’s very hard to say no, this is something Joanna Motion started and Kate Hunter and now John Middleton have ably continued. So when John asked me to write this blog 10 days out from our campaign launch event — I of course said yes! He also asked me to give some advice to aspiring female leaders. So here goes…. “Never be afraid to sparkle a little brighter and always take that call from CASE!”