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Peter Zinkin

Peter Zinkin's oration

President, Master, Graduates and Granduands, Guests, and Colleagues,

Today it is my great honour to welcome Peter Zinkin to a College Fellowship at Birkbeck, University of London.

Zinkin has been an incredible supporter of Birkbeck. He served as an independent governor from November 2011 until October 2020. All of us have benefitted from his wisdom, attention to detail, and commitment to our students before all else.

So, who is Zinkin? Although he comes from a very distinguished Rabbinical family, he was brought up in a secular Jewish home. He was sent to Winchester College, the distinguished boarding school in Hampshire, and then read Natural Sciences at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. This was followed by a couple of years (between 1976 and 1978) at the London Business School (LBS), doing an MSc in Economics. Recognizing someone who was capable of developing cutting edge financial services for sale to institutions in the City of London, the LBS immediately employed him.

By 1981, he was ready for a change, and Balfour Beatty, the British-based, multinational infrastructure group, was desperate for his skills in financial leasing. Within a decade, he had been appointed Planning and Development Director, a position he held until 2015. It was a formidable job, requiring travel all over the world negotiating mergers and acquisitions, strategy, property, corporate finance, and pension matters. I am reliably informed that he was a popular figure in the first-class compartments of airlines.

For most people, this would be enough. But not for Zinkin. He also gives back to the community. He is the Councillor for Childs Hill in the London Borough of Barnet, where he has a reputation for responding quickly to emails and letters - for “getting things done”, in other words. He is Chair of the Barnet Conservative Group, Chair of the Barnet Finance Committee, Vice-Chair of the North London Waste Authority, a member of the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, and active in the oversight of the new Thameslink station project, which will link the Brent Cross Cricklewood development to King's Cross St Pancras in under 15 minutes.

He serves the community in other ways as well. He has a long history of service to higher education, including being a member of the Leadership Governance and Management Committee of the Higher Education Funding Council and a Governor of the University of North London.

He was the Chairman of the Golders Green Synagogue for more than a decade and was a trustee and Vice-President of the United Synagogue for 6 years. In that role, he oversaw and still now continues to oversee a number of major property projects. He is an active presence both in front of and behind the scenes, known for his knowledge of planning regulations and ability to negotiate the most awkward of bureaucracies.

At Birkbeck, he has been transformative, especially in his role as Chair of the Strategic Estates and Infrastructure Committee, and as a member of the Finance and General Purposes Committee as well as the Remuneration Committee. Here, his expertise in matters of property, management, and finance has been invaluable. His greatest challenge at Birkbeck was understanding the institution - which is very opaque to outsiders. But his greatest achievements include putting together a viable property strategy which puts student needs at the centre. In this, he is a true Birkbeckian.

But what about the man? He is father to one son (a rabbi) and a daughter (a doctor). Both he and his beloved wife, Jacqui, are known in the Jewish community for not being able to say “no” to new tasks and (as one friend put it) always “just giving of themselves in all sorts of ways.”

Zinkin is kind, supportive of people who are struggling, and modest. Most of all, he is a problem solver. As David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, told me, “If you were standing against a wall with a row or men with rifles pointing at you, you would want Zinkin to negotiate for you."

He has used these skills to support and strengthen Birkbeck. He is a true ambassador for our mission.

We are deeply honoured that he is now a Fellow of our College.