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Richard Agutter

(Elected 2010)


Richard Agutter was co-opted as a Governor of Birkbeck in 1999. A chartered accountant who has been active in the City for over 40 years, he is a former partner of KPMG. Richard was the first Chairman of the KPMG Corporate Finance International Network from 1990-96 and has wide experience (including privatisation), both in the private sector and through government initiatives, both in the UK and throughout the world.

Richard has been involved in transportation since 1980, when he restructured Brymon Airways, which owned Plymouth Airport, and sold the business to British Airways. As a result of the Brymon position he was involved in the conceptual planning for London City Airport. In addition he has been involved in preparing business plans and financial analyses while advising clients on strategic options including, currently, for a Middle Eastern airline. He is also a non executive director of Braemar Shipping Services plc.

Beyond his corporate responsibilities, Richard was an Alderman of the City of London, and was Sheriff between 2000 and 2001. He is greatly involved with a number of the Livery companies, and other City institutions. He is currently fourth Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company and a Trustee of the New Goldsmiths’ Centre which is being built with the support of the Company to provide training and exhibition facilities to enhance the Goldsmiths' trade.

Richard commented: 'I have very much enjoyed my association with Birkbeck over the last 12 years and am grateful for the opportunity to have a continuing link. These are exciting times in higher education and I will follow Birkbeck’s progress with interest.'


Master, Distinguished Governors, Graduates and Guests.

Richard Agutter was a Governor of Birkbeck for 11 years. This has been a period in which Birkbeck has both undergone large growth and reorganisation and had to face some significant financial challenges. Though it may seem as though their core business is simple and transparent – the teaching of students and pursuit of research - universities are complex financial entities, who have many different operations to balance, and increasingly have to operate in very unstable environments. This means that we rely very heavily on the advice that expert governors such as Richard Agutter are able to provide.

Richard has had a long and distinguished career in finance. He spent 35 years working with accountancy firm Peat Marwick and then subsequently with KPMG. KPMG, formed from a merger of Peat Marwick, then Britain's largest public accounting firm, with three other accountancy firms from the Netherlands, Germany and the US, is the third biggest accountancy firm in the world. He was a partner in the firm from 1977 to 1998 and also served as its Senior Adviser. He set up KPMG's Corporate Finance Division in 1985 and served as Chairman of KPMG International Corporate Finance Network from 1990 to 1996, becoming an acknowledged authority on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, whose opinion was often sought during the hectic years of corporate eating and being eaten of the 1980s and 1990s.

He has had a specialised interest in the financial arrangements associated with forms of transport, especially airports and shipping. Since 2001, he has been a Director of Braemar Shipping Services, which, since 1842, has been providing broking and consultancy services to maritime industries in the UK. He maintains his interest in airports, and is Finance Director and Executive Director of Convergence-AFCO Holdings Limited which specialises in the development of regional airport facilities in Europe.

Some of the Fellows we entertain on this platform seem distinctly uncomfortable with the ceremonial finery we ask them to model for the occasion. But the extensive experience that Richard Agutter has had not only with the investment, but also with the vestimentary side of the City of London mean that he is no stranger to the dressing-up box. In 1995, he was elected as one of the City of London's 26 Aldermen. In 2000, he was elected as Sheriff for the City of London. Sheriffs are elected annually on Midsummer's Day, and their duties do not involve much in the way of raising posses or gunfights at noon in Lombard Street, but do include attending the Lord Mayor in carrying out his official duties, assisting at the Central Criminal Court in the Old Bailey and conveying and presenting petitions from the City of London to Parliament. In 2004, Richard Agutter was appointed Master of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London.

He is also Vice-Chancellor of the Wine Guild of the United Kingdom. The Wine Guild was established in 1983 on the model of the craft guilds of medieval Europe, and aims to share the enjoyment and appreciation of wine by promoting knowledge and understanding about its history and production. It is the responsibility of the Management Committee that Richard Agutter chairs to organise regular banquets, but there is an academic side to the Wine Guild as well. It has its own distinguished gowns and regalia - favouring along with Birkbeck a highly palatable looking shade of burgundy - and also offers its own awards and wine scholarships.

He is a member of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers, of which he was Master from 2008-09. He is also currently Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company, which was founded in 1300 to regulate the goldsmiths trade. Since that time, it has been responsible for testing the quality of gold, silver and, from 1975, platinum articles, and issuing hallmarks, so-named from Goldsmiths' Hall, where the items used to be brought for testing. The Goldsmiths Company continues to this day, on the second Tuesday in February of every year, to conduct the procedure known as the Trial of the Pyx, in which newly-minted coins are tested to ensure they conform to required standards of size and composition. The ceremony derives from the provision of Henry II made in 1248 to elect ‘twelve of the more discreet and lawful men of the city…who shall go before the Barons of our Exchequer at Westminster and examine, upon oath, together with the Barons, both the old and new money of our land, and make provision how it may be bettered, and that it be made of good silver, and that it be lawful and for the good of the realm’. It is not spelled out, but it was also meant to ensure that the Master of the Mint was unable to carry away precious metals for his own personal enrichment.

Perhaps this process is a ceremonial form of the process of accounting with which in the very broadest sense Richard Agutter has been involved for the whole of his career. Accountancy, it is fair to say, does not have a very glamorous reputation, though this is for the very best of reasons, since accounting for things often consists of the process of dispelling the mists of glamour or mystification. The word ‘account’ comes from the Latin accomptare, to calculate or gather together in reckoning. But the word retains its association with the giving of accounts, or rendering oneself up to judgement. To render accounts is to make oneself answerable, to reply to the question, what are you worth? The writing of essays that accounts for so much of the study time of Birkbeck students, derives from the process of assaying, which meant the testing of metals, the very process which Archimedes was pondering in his bath prior to his dripping shriek of Eureka. This kind of assaying can be uncomfortable, even exacting, another word in the same etymological orbit. Assaying, examination and exactitude all derive from Latin ex-agere, to drive out, a notion that has lent itself to the whole range of actions of weighing, testing, proving, examining and making trial that lie at the heart of all philosophical, religious and political enquiry. As an audience, you too are involved in the process of giving hearing and making tial that has its financial parallel in the word ‘auditor’. Without accountancy, then, there is not only no accountability, there is no possibility of accounting for anything.

As a Governor of Birkbeck, Richard was vital in helping us at Birkbeck give account of ourselves. He played a leading role in the financial management and oversight of the college, particularly in his roles as chair of the Finance and General Purposes Committee and chair of Investments Committee. The wealth of experience he brought meant that he was able to guide Birkbeck through some tricky funding issues, most notably the ELQ crisis of recent years, in which the Government abruptly announced the ending of funding for students undertaking second degrees in a new academic area. His guiding hand was so secure that in in all but one of the years during which he was Chair of Finance and General Purposes Committee, the College made a surplus. He was also able to use his influence and reputation in the City to promote Birkbeck’s unique mission, which enabled us to obtain some very generous donations for the support of students. For this, and for his many other contributions and achievements, we cannot hope to clear off our debt to him, though this is the one kind of deficit we are glad to return. Let us therefore welcome him now to the company of the many others who have equally not counted the cost in what they have given to this College, as a Fellow of Birkbeck.