Spotlight on Jeff Brown
29 January 2014
This week the spotlight is on Jeff Brown, Chief Operating Officer at UCL Qatar.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am the Chief Operating Officer at UCL Qatar. The role involves managing the non-academic side of our operation: finance, facilities, administration, technological infrastructure, marketing and human resources, etc.
When I first arrived three months ago, there was also the rather pressing matter of UCL's inauguration at the Qatar National Convention Centre with members of both the British and Qatari royal families in attendance. So, some swift 'events management' activity, very well supported by colleagues from London, was required.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
Prior to my role at UCL Qatar, I was seconded by UCL to Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan for two years as the Chief Operating Officer. There I was involved in the set up of an undergraduate School of Engineering for over 300 students.
I can still remember flying in to Astana with Helen Murray (formerly with UCL Admissions) only six weeks before the start of term, with no teaching staff 'on the ground' and no laboratory infrastructure.
It was either brave or foolhardy but I can still recall the very positive initial impact we had and the enthusiasm and affection of the Kazakh students, the young teaching assistants and talented professors, such as Zhumabay Bakenov - an expert in battery research.
On my final day in Astana, I had the honour of escorting the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Provost, Professor Sir Malcolm Grant around our lecture rooms and fully functioning laboratories, completing the cycle we had started. Then, three hours later, flying out over the vast, flat Steppe.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Before joining UCL, I had been an executive director at Exeter University, coordinating a set of multi-million pound business engagement and research projects across the south-west (literally from Bristol to Plymouth), and the Director of Operations at the University of Kent, where I had been central to the construction and development of a 2,000-student campus in the Medway towns.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
UCL Qatar has just held its first examination board to recommend students for postgraduate awards. I am currently working on the logistics for holding a graduation ceremony in Qatar.
The to-do list is very long but includes, in no particular order, building further on our excellent relationship with our partners (the Qatar Foundation and Qatar Museums Authority), improving the student experience, reviewing our current professional service provision and building a sustainable teaching and research platform for the academic community.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan; The Searchers - John Ford; and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
There does seem to be an American theme, perhaps a legacy from my undergraduate days and numerous visits to San Francisco and Boston.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
Almost anything by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. If my memory serves me well, I first saw them perform 'live' at the Albany Empire in Deptford back in the '80s.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Beatrice Dalle, actress (Betty Blue); John Lydon, vocalist of sorts (aka Rotten); William Burroughs, author (Naked Lunch); and Jean Arthur Rimbaud, symbolist poet (The Drunken Boat).
What advice would you give your younger self?
Look to the horizon! I hesitated to travel with my work before 2004. Since then I have been involved in university and business development activity in Kiev, Sevastopol, Tallinn and California. Since joining UCL those horizons have somewhat broadened to Central Asia and the Gulf.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I was once a relatively successful middle distance runner.
What is your favourite place?
St Petersburg - 'the Venice of the North', an evocative cityscape of mist covered bridges.