Ian Findlay

Ian Findlay_ Global Education Leaders of 2021

Ian Findlay

An Exemplary Leader stimulating Best-in-Class Education and Health in the Upcoming Times

An avid leader envisioning to manifest his goals at every step of the journey is Professor Ian Findlay, President, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Puthisastra (UP), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Today UP is one of the largest private universities in Cambodia and educates the next generation of doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, lab techs, and IT professionals-exceptionally important in a developing country ravaged by genocide.

A performance-driven individual with a diverse background, Ian has widespread experience in research, healthcare, teaching, patents, entrepreneurship, managing the commercial business, and education management in both higher education and vocational education sectors. With such an extensive knowledge base, Ian brings the best of different perspectives to organizations.

A Journey to the Forefront

Initially, Ian started his career in embryo stem-cell research which further progressed to managing an IVF laboratory (IVF was a new concept at the time and became successful in the UK within a year. Later on, he moved to complete Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics, which was just beginning its rapid ascent. Ian, a go-getter, was propelled to create his niche in single-cell genetic analysis and forensics, which was a win-win situation in his career path. This breakthrough led to many exciting adventures including DNA fingerprinting “Jack the Ripper” letters, publishing in the highest quality journals such as Nature, BMJ, Clinical Genetics, and many more. He received>$5 million in competitive grants and gained multiple international awards such as “Scientist of the Year 1998” by European Society of Human Genetics and the “Bancroft Medal 2005” – the highest award by Australian Medical Association (AMA), 11 international patents, and directing several biotech spin-offs. All these remarkable achievements made him an established Professor at just 38 years of age.

Taking a detour from the professional life, Ian’s focus shifted to his personal life, he got married, emigrated to Australia, and had a child. He knew it was time to set new family priorities and take a halt from his career to raise his child. He left the workforce and spent glorious and precious years raising his son until he went to school. After striking a balance between personal and professional lives, Ian wanted to explore new challenges and during that time he became increasingly interested in the nexus between higher education (explaining the why) and vocational education (explaining the how) realizing that artificial barriers were intruding from reaping the best of both. After all, many professionals including doctors, engineers, vets, and dentists require both theory and practical skills to succeed.

This made Ian realize where his future lay, he knew the advantages and experiences gained over the years could help him discover his new destination. He could see the opportunity of creating the next generation of health professionals who had the best of both “the why” and “the how” – a true understanding. It was now time for a comeback.

The Next Big Move

Ian believes that education inspires generations, it transforms young minds into global leaders and thinkers. He therefore moved to education management becoming Dean of Health at various public and private universities. He had the opportunity to improve curricula, embed the best of “how” and “why” to produce well-rounded graduates with the soft-skills required to get, make, and keep the best, meaningful, and highest-paying careers.

After stints as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (learning and teaching) and managing 30,000 students at a public vocational provider it was now time to make the quantum leap. Ian’s long background in health has been beneficial for him in the longer run. He further adds, “I was very fortunate to have gained the skills required of a President of a university during my varied career. My health background ensured that I knew what everyone was talking about for a health university -. My background in research was handy to uplift research capability, write papers and grants, mentor young researchers, etc. My background in Learning and Teaching and academic governance gave me very strong foundations in contemporary best-practice andragogy including blended and flipped learning and learning technologies. My background in commercials gave me the skills to devour a P&L, create business plans and drive commercial revenue.”

UP’s vision is to pursue excellence in health science and technologythe skills that create and sustain the future. Its three core values are Honour Self, Respect Others, and Develop Society. By embedding these positive values in students, the university trains graduates and the country for the 21st Century.

The success rate has been incredible over these two and half years which include:

  • 100% student pass rates in Medicine, dentistry, and nursing, 97% in pharmacy
  • 247% increase in international research publications
  • Delivery >35,000 hrs of online learning in less than a year
  • 37% increase in total revenue, 185% increase in commercial revenue
  • 158% increase in profit whilst keeping expenses at 5% increase
  • 97% staff satisfaction, pay rises averaging 12% despite COVID
  • Comprehensive training plans (25 courses) for staff and students
  • Major focus on Student Engagement – 27 initiatives
  • Establishment of strong academic governance, curricula, and assessment improvement programs

Self-Motivation is the Ultimate Driver of Success

Ian believes that to be inspired or motivated by some external sources is temporary, but what is needed in the long run is self-motivation – the only truly sustainable source of motivation. His motto is to lead a meaningful and impactful life and leave behind a legacy for the upcoming generations. He often wonders, “what will I tell my grandchildren when they ask “What did you do to improve the world?” – and will they be proud?”

Professionally, he motivates his team with a vision of a bright future to become a part of something great and successful by making a real difference. Every fortnight each of Ian’s leadership team takes 3-4 minutes to share and celebrate their successes. Ian too participates in this ritual by sharing the bigger picture and the difference the team continues to make for their staff, students, community, and Cambodia.

Ian states his three beneficial hacks learned in his career:

  • Inspire people to do their best and they will.
  • Set high, clear expectations. Then help them achieve.
  • Don’t take no for an answer. Find another way.

Overcoming Hurdles along the Path

Ian reckons the main obstacle to overcome is complacency. He adds, “My school guidance teacher told me that if I worked hard, I could end up even managing a shop! But I had more to do and more to give and I was determined. I was the first in the family to go to university, move out of our town and move out the country”. Throughout his career, he has continually challenged convention, asked questions, and created his own opportunities. Ian believes opportunities are all around us however it’s the courage and the drive to do something, that makes all the difference.

He loves Einstein’s quote “Creativity [and Innovation] is intelligence having fun” and senjoys can-do attitude – pushing boundaries. . Ian’s Words of Wisdom for young aspirants are:

  • Believe in yourself – you create your own future
  • Be focused and committed, find and follow your passion
  • Be the best you can be – whatever it is

A Life-Changing Experience

Over the years, Ian has transformed the lives of many students who were on the verge of giving up and has shown them the light at the end of the tunnel. Recollecting one such incident was meeting a student called Andrea, who was hitting rock bottom in her life. He recalls, “She had sunken, vacant eyes, bright green hair, rough blotchy skin, piercings through her nose, ears and lips and obviously on drugs. I arranged that she got full academic credit for what she had completed, and spoke to her for an hour about future career opportunities.” This piece of advice gave her the much-needed confidence and off she went. Exactly a year later, Ian was encountered by her when she tapped his shoulder in a lift and when he turned around there stood a stunningly beautiful girl. At first instance, she was unrecognizable until she confronted, “You don’t remember me do you? I’m Andrea, we spoke about a year ago”. She was now at the university and started her own business.

Ian fondly remembers Andrea’s words of fulfillment “Thank you for inspiring me and giving me a future”. Ian concludes that her words will stay with him forever.

Education, like hope, is life changing.