Introducing YCR’s Chair, Professor Anthony Robards OBE
Tony has spent his career as a life-sciences researcher at the University of York, culminating in the post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Relations which, among other things, involved linking the University’s research capabilities with external businesses and other organisations. This led to non-executive directorships of a number of company boards as well as trusteeships of charities.
What does your organisation do?
YCR is a 90 year old charity that has recently undergone a significant revision of strategy to bring its activities and benefits closer to the patient. Our vision is that every single person in every community in and around Yorkshire will have the very best chance of living a long and healthy life with, without and beyond cancer. Our goal is to ensure that at least 2,000 more people in the region survive cancer every year by 2025. We have committed to investing £100m over the next 10 years to tackle the region’s biggest cancer problems. We will work in partnership with researchers, scientists and clinicians, the NHS, Public Health bodies and other charities to make life-changing improvements to cancer outcomes in Yorkshire.
Why did you become a Chair?
With my background in bioscience and always wanting to feel that scientific research can lead to positive social benefits, it was a natural progression, firstly to take on non-executive directorships and trusteeships before moving on to become a chair of both corporate boards and charities. Being a chair provides the opportunity to help to ‘make things happen’ and that has very much been the case with YCR where, with the support of both trustees and the executive team, we have refocused the charity to provide clear and measurable benefits to cancer patients across Yorkshire.
What do you most enjoy about chairing?
I like the analogy of being a chair with that or being an orchestral conductor. The chair is not necessarily the best instrumentalist and doesn’t necessarily make a lot of noise but he/she will understand the forces that are at his/her disposal and will make the very best use of them to achieve the strategic goals that the board has set. When there is a strong team around you, no ambition is too great and the joy comes from the shared enthusiasm for delivering the benefits set by the objects of the charity.
Do you have any key tips or lessons to share with your fellow chairs?
It is, of course, important to be able to run board meetings effectively and efficiently but, while this is a very visible part of the chair’s role, it is hardly the most critical. So much work needs to go on behind the scenes and the relationship between the CEO and chair is absolutely crucial. There must be mutual respect and this means that the chair must be fully up-to-speed, not only with the charity’s own strategy and activities but also with the increasingly onerous issues relating to compliance, governance and risk. In my view, good chairs listen more than they talk: in that way they can take in the views of many different parties and allow good, open, debates to take place without being overly opinionated.
Why did you join the AoC?
At a time when the charity sector is under greater public scrutiny than ever before it is essential that chairs are well-briefed and can share best practice. The AoC provides opportunities for chairs to come together and thereby to improve our knowledge and quality of delivery. As an aside, it is interesting that the AoC is a relatively recent organisation while ACEVO is relatively long-standing, yet the overall strategy and governance of a charity is the responsibility of the board. If AoC didn’t exist I think that, in the current climate, you would seriously need to wonder why!