THIS week’s High Flyer is Professor Gillian Armstrong, Ulster University Business School’s first director of business engagement
What was your first job?
Apart from a number of waitressing jobs as a teenager, my first proper job was as a development technologist for Unigate in Lisnaskea. I’ve fond memories of my time there and the science involved in cheese manufacture.
What qualifications to you have?
I have a first class honours degree and PhD in the area of consumer oriented product development; as well as a Postgraduate Certificate in University Teaching.
What do you attribute your success to?
Being passionate about education and the impact of business and education working together in partnership. I also thrive on a good challenge, being flexible, approachable and a little creative at times. Working in teams of highly committed staff has also contributed greatly.
Who do you look up to in business?
This can vary but anyone passionate about their business and having the vision and energy to drive it forward. I always enjoy working with the Visiting Professors within the Business School such as Jackie Henry, Deloitte; Ian McConnell, PwC and Feargal McCormack, PKF-FPM, right through to the small artisan food producers involved in PhD research.
How do you get the best out of people that work for you?
It’s really important to listen and take the time to get to know your team. By understanding their skills and strengths they can then be guided into roles and tasks to which they are best suited. I firmly believe that if I demonstrate commitment and enthusiasm a team will follow.
If you could change one thing about doing business in Northern Ireland, what would that be?
We need more joined up thinking to fully utilise the exceptional talent coming out of our education sector at all levels and how it is harnessed to continue to position the region on a global platform. By ensuring the right skills pipeline we can look forward to more foreign direct investment and more business growth.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Ulster University is a very creative place to work and engaging with subject teams, students and increasingly with business on new and innovative programmes is highly rewarding. Recently I have worked on new Higher Level Apprenticeship Programmes and Graduate Conversion Programmes to support upskilling into priority sectors both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is brilliant to see the impact of these types of interventions for student cohorts, key business sectors and government first hand.
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
As a fanatical competitive cook when at school I won a placement with PRIMA magazine in London. My most memorable experience there was being a hand model for food photography shoots!
What’s your greatest passion outside work and family?
Anything related to food, eating out and live music of any description. I also love spending time at our caravan on the north coast and plenty of dog walking (and time with my family).
Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?
I can honestly say that I’m now in my ideal job working with academic colleagues and the business sector to shape this new unit within the business school.
If you could swap jobs with anyone else for the day, who would it be and why?
Adrian Morrow, the managing director of Glenarm Castle Estate. What a business and what a location. It’s always innovative and progressive never mind the quality of that organic beef and lamb they produce.