Fiona Larg is chief operating office and secretary, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). Fiona has undertaken several roles with UHI since joining in 2007, initially as asistant secretary before being appointed deputy secretary in the same year. In 2009, she was appointed Secretary and is now chief operating officer and Secretary, reflecting the breadth of her role.
Fiona’s responsibilities include managing corporate, legal and constitutional matters, advising court (board in England) and senior officers and, with the principal, ensuring decisions are implemented. Fiona is company secretary to court, and ensures compliance with legislation and the requirements of the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator. She oversees the organisation’s decision-making, business and
Before joining UHI, Fiona worked in senior management with Vertex Data Science Ltd and Inverness and Nairn Local Enterprise Company. Fiona is an alumna of TMP18.
What is the best piece of management/leadership advice you have ever been given? The first chairman I worked for 25 years ago, and taught me a lot about strategic and business planning, used to remind me regularly that if you are “too busy killing crocodiles you forget that you set out to drain the swamp.” Good advice as it’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae that you don’t give enough time and attention to progressing strategic priorities.
Who is your inspiring leader and why? Sir Winston Churchill must be top of the list even though he is very much in the news at present as we commemorate his death 50 years ago. Whilst his leadership during the war was exemplary he was distinguished in several other fields having achieved a Nobel Prize for Literature, was an accomplished artist and had a distinguished military career.
What was the best professional move you made and why? I joined the University of the Highlands and Islands over 7 years ago from the private sector. Being part of creating a new university, especially the first university ever in my home area, has been a great thrill and an honour. It continues to evolve very quickly, with its new responsibilities for further education in the region that there is never a dull moment!
What will you remember most about TMP? The great variety of topics covered and the network of contacts created. It was particularly useful to me as I went on TMP 18 shortly after joining the university from the private sector and had very little higher education knowledge or experience.
What will be the most enduring learning point? I gained much greater self-awareness of my preferred management style(s) and the need to use the most appropriate style for the situation. Being able to practice these and explore the reactions really resonated with me and I try to keep using those styles which come less naturally.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting off their career? Get noticed for being enthusiastic and willing to take on new responsibilities. Not everyone can be the brightest in their team or department but they can stand out as being the most reliable and willing. These people are often working above the grade they are being paid for but are obvious candidates for promotion the first time the opportunity arises.
What one thing would make your job easier? Fewer meetings! So much of my week seems to disappear with various committees, working groups, project boards…
What’s been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it? I worked in outsourcing for 10 years before joining the university. My biggest challenge was telling 250 of my team that the contract they were working on was being transferred from the Scottish Highlands to our centre in India. Fortunately the team all pulled together to demonstrate how good they were, impressed prospective clients and the company won another longer term, more secure contract for them. A challenging few months!
What would be your priority activity if you were invisible for a day? I think I would get retribution on my friends who are practical jokers. I wouldn’t want to give away what I would do just in case I get the opportunity!
Who would you choose to be stranded on a desert island with? James Martin, the chef. My ideal man – good looking, loves fast cars and his cooking is amazing (particularly the desserts!). Probably no room on the island for the cars but we’d cope!
Tell us a secret about yourself? I’m afraid that my reputation for buying shoes is legendary. Having “accidentally” forgotten to take any shoes to a Royal opening of a new building on one of our campuses (I arrived in my posh frock and wellies as it had been snowing heavily!), I managed to buy not one but two new pairs in two minutes in the nearest town!
If you could get tickets to any event in the world what would it be? A grand opera by one of the great Italian composers at La Scala in Milan. Alternatively any opera where Jonas Kaufmann is the lead tenor.
What can’t you live without? Curry I’m afraid – it is by far my most favourite food – the hotter the better. If I couldn’t have curry, it would have to be chillies so I could spice up other food.
What would you be if you weren’t the COO and Secretary? I’d be a travel writer. I love visiting other countries, the more remote the better. I think this started with me working for 3 months on St Helena in the 1980s. With one ship every 6 weeks, no airport (yet) and 1500 miles off the coast of Africa, it’s one of the most remote places in the world… and I loved it.