Richard Sykes

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Richard Sykes (Sir Richard Sykes), born 7 August 1942, is currently chancellor of Brunel University. He has had a career spanning science, education and business, holding many high level positions. On his appointment at Brunel David Finlayson, deputy chair of Brunel council described him as a “distinguished leader of an academic institution and a captain of industry with a global view.” Sir Richard described Brunel as a university with “a great brand.” [1]

Sir Richard received a Knighthood in the 1994 New Year's Honours list for services to the pharmaceutical industry. [2]

He is current chairman of the Royal Institution and a fellow of the Royal Society. [3]

He is also chairman of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. [4]

Imperial College London

During his time as vice-chancellor at Imperial, Sykes oversaw the university’s move to independence. He established the centrally managed College Fund and led fundraising schemes such as the flotation of Imperial Innovations as well as a £50 million unsecured private placement borrowed over a 50 year period. [2] The university saw a growth in interdisciplinary research under Sykes’ with new institutes established including the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, the Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change. [2] Sykes was the highest paid vice-chancellor of any university in 2006-2007 with his salary at £348,000. [5]The position also gave him a £1 million pound residence free of charge, a source of criticism from teaching unions who named him as one of a list of ‘top 10 hypocrits’ during a strike in 2002 regarding the freezing of academics in the capital’s London weighting allowance. [6] Sykes was a supporter of removing the £3000 cap on student fees and also argued that £3000 was too low “to create a market in higher education” suggesting up to £15,000 would be more realistic. [7] In 2002 a merger with UCL was planned between Sykes and Sir Derek Roberts, head at UCL and also a former ‘captain of industry’. It would have created a ‘super-university’ the largest in the UK which they planned would rival Oxford and Cambridge. The plans were dropped after strong opposition from UCL academic staff, including Professor Steve Jones. The two chancellors had argued: “that by joining forces to create a giant institution with a turnover of more than pounds 800m they would become "a global player" in an increasingly international market.” [8] The merger would have created the University of London and Sykes would have taken charge. [9] Sykes’ rectorship at Imperial saw him turn the financially struggling but academically successful university around. He quickly made changes to implement his vision of an “internationally competitive university business”. His reform style was described as “authoritative” and he was criticised for lack of consultation with staff. By the time he left in 2008 the university had turned around financially and had an increased student body, with this greatly made up by foreign high fee paying students. Only 40% of students were from the UK. In the same period the number of teaching staff reduced, as did teaching time of academics and without investment in student support structures, leading to criticism that his business approach was not best suited to an educational institution. The student magazine at Imperial argued that students were paying higher fees for less teaching in a “divided and isolating campus which feels, to many students, remarkably impersonal and uncaring”. [10]

Imperial innovations

Imperial Innovations appears to follow a similar model to Isis Innovations, Oxford University’s spin-out. In an interview in 2006 entitled ‘Turning science into profit’, Sykes discussed that universities are “acutely aware of the need to provide an efficient mechanism for ‘spin-out’ businesses, turning research into commercial ventures”, to prevent losing talent and to raise funds. [11] Sykes went on to say, “the point about technology is that you have to move it fast. If the money isn’t there to back it, it soon loses impact.” The spin-out model works well in engineering, but not so well in bioscience, which is Sykes “first love”. [11] In April 2005 Imperial College and Imperial Innovations raised £20 million from a private placement to institutional investors. This was the first time a UK university-owned technology transfer business had offered private placement shares. Imperial Innovations is now 71% owned by the university and 29% owned by City institutions (Ceres Power, a fuel-cell technology business, worth £66 million in 2004, HydroVenturi, which has developed a method of generating power from tidal currents, ComMedica, which holds a £33 million NHS contract). [12]



  • 2000-08: Rector of Imperial College London
  • 2001-02: Non-Executive Chairman of GlaxoSmithKline
  • 1997-2001: Executive Chairman of Glaxo plc
  • 1993-97: Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Glaxo plc
  • 1987-93: Director Research & Development, Glaxo plc and Chairman and Chief Executive Glaxo Group Research Ltd
  • 1983-86: Vice President of Infectious and Metabolic Diseases, Squibb Institute
  • 1977-83: Director of Microbiology, Squibb Institute for Medical Research
  • 1972-77: Glaxo Research UK

As chairman and chief executive of Glaxo, Sykes oversaw the merger with Wellcome and then with SmithKline Beecham, which initially fell through with the egos of the two chief executives blamed. His salary and shares in 1998-99 at GlaxoWellcome reached £3.6 million. In an interview as he commenced his appointment at Imperial Sykes spoke of deciding to follow a career in business over academia for “the money and opportunites”. [14] He went on to discuss how the business model could be transferred to Imperial to make it profitable

"Imperial has an enormous amount of intellectual capital - intellectual property and the expertise of the people here - and we can use it. We can spin off companies, we can use our expertise as we move into a knowledge-based society, and that can help us build up funds. If we spin off companies, and they are successful, then the college would share in that wealth." [14]

During his time at Glaxo Wellcome, Sykes wrote an open letter, published in the Sunday Telegraph, to the Health Secretary Frank Dobson warning him that pharmaceutical giants would move their bases abroad if the government took an “antagonist’ attitude towards them. This followed a Glaxo Wellcome anti-flu drug not being approved for NHS prescriptions due to cost effectiveness. Sykes wrote that the decision represented "a very serious threat to the future of one of the UK's most successful international industries" and highlighted the size of the company’s research base in the UK. [15]

Science Media Centre

Sykes was a member of the scientific advisory board from 2002-2012. When he became chairman of the Royal Institution in 2010 he gave the go-ahead for SMC to establish as an independent charitable body. Following this, it became apparent in 2011 that remaining on the RI’s premises was no longer guaranteed. The Wellcome Trust stepped in to offer temporary office space for the independent SMC for three months. [16]

Company directorships

Sykes has maintained a strong presence in the business world through directorships and positions on company boards. Businesses he takes up roles in are usually in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical field, international mining corporations or investment companies. Present positions [17]

Previous roles


Company advisory roles


Several of Sykes directorship or advisory roles have been in Singapore and in 2004 he was awarded honorary citizenship for “his contribution to the development of the country’s biomedical sciences industry”. [18]

Business controversies

The mining company ENRC, which paid Sykes £250,000 annually for a half-day per week role as non-executive director between 2007-2011, was involved in a controversy about a mining licence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010. The licence had been granted to a Canadian company, then taken back for resale by the DRC government and sold to ENRC, a Kazakh-owned company listed in London. The company was first floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2007, and was the second biggest float that year. To further their business opportunities in the war torn country, ENRC had teamed up with an Israeli diamond dealer, Dan Gertler “whose very name raises hackles among African aid campaigners”. [19] The Canadian company First Quantum is suing ENRC in the British Virgin Islands courts. Sykes stressed the legitimacy of the signed deal in interviews at the time. The dubious ethics of the deal led to some shareholders, including Standard Life, selling their shares. [20]

The controversy drew comments and questions from the City about the listing of foreign companies in London, (ENRC was based in Kazakhstan and did 90% of its business there), and the role of highly paid non-executives. [19]

In 2011 Sykes and three other independent directors were voted off ENRC's board by majority shareholders. This had reportedly followed the independent directors calling for a review of the company’s corporate governance. [20] Industry commentators questioned why it took them so long to raise such issues, given longstanding concerns about its governance from outside the company. [21]

The Serious Fraud Office is currently carrying out a criminal investigation of the company, with allegations of bribery, fraud and corruption relating to ENRC’s conduct in its African and Kazakhstan business. [22]

Affiliations, awards and publications




  1. News and events Brunel University, 11 April 2013, accessed 5 September 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Past rectors Imperial College London, accessed 5 September 2013
  3. Sir Richard Sykes Royal Institution of Great Britain, accessed 5 September 2013
  4. Board of Directors Imperial College NHS Trust, accessed 5 September 2013
  5. Sykes tops vice-chancellor pay chart Live - Imperial College news site, 13 March 2008, accessed 16 September 2013
  6. Andy McSmith University fat cats blamed in pay row The Independent on Sunday, 27 October 2002, accessed 16 September 2013
  7. Richard Garner Most universities seek highest top-up fee The Independent, 30 December 2004, accessed 16 September 2013
  8. Sarah Cassidy Universities call off their merger after protests from professors The Independent, 19 November 2002, accessed 16 September 2013
  9. Donald MacLeod Opposition ends Imperial and UCL merger dream The Guardian, 18 November 2002, accessed 16 September 2013
  10. Andrew Somerville Seven years of Sykes Imperial College London, Felix News, 28 June 2008, accessed 16 September 2013
  11. 11.0 11.1 Martin Vander Weyer Turning science into profit Spectator, 4 February 2006, accessed 4 September 2013
  12. [ Imperial College London and Imperial Innovations raise over £20m from City deal] Imperial College, 28 April 2005, accessed 4 September 2013
  13. Sir Richard Sykes Debretts, accessed 16 September 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 Alison Goddard Billion-pound Prescription For Success The Times Higher Education Supplement, 26 January 2001, accessed 24 September 2013
  15. Leading drugs companies threaten pulling out of UK Xinhua News Agency, accessed 4 October 1999, accessed 24 September 2013
  16. Paul James Research Intelligence - Briefing encounters Times Higher Education, 9 June 2011, accessed 4 September 2013
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Toumaz Ltd: executive profile Richard Brook Sykes Bloomberg Businessweek, accessed 24 September 2013
  18. Sir Richard Sykes Royal Institution of Great Britain, accessed 5 September 2013
  19. 19.0 19.1 Andrew Davidson Caught up in a Congo conflict; Sir Richard Sykes likes a fight - and he's not backing down after ENRC's purchase of a mining licence in the African republic The Sunday Times, 31 October 2010, accessed 24 September 2013
  20. 20.0 20.1 Rowena Mason & Garry White Warning signs lit up around ENRC from the start The Daily Telegraph, 9 June 2011, accessed 24 September 2013
  21. Eurasian exodus Investors Chronicle, 15 June 2011, accessed 24 September 2013
  22. James Quinn & Emma Rowley New £3bn offer to take ENRC private; Founders of Kazakh mining giant move to leave LS The Sunday Telegraph, 23 June 2013, accessed 24 September 2013