“From cowboy boots to evening gowns.”
That’s what Nancy Brown Andison was toting around in her vehicle during a visit to the University of Guelph in late September.
The new chair of U of G’s Board of Governors was referring to her pending attendance at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto this fall. In November, she’ll be showing award-winning Shorthorn cattle from the family farm in Beaverton, Ont., and attending gala events during the 10-day agri-food showcase.
But her quip could be a metaphor for the varied background and interests that Brown Andison brings to her new role as Board chair – a range that echoes the breadth of academic and research expertise found across campus at her alma mater.
A Board member since 2014, she attended her first B of G meeting as chair on Oct. 19. Brown Andison has ambitious plans for her three-year term, working along with other Board members, the U of G Senate; senior leaders; faculty, staff and students; and alumni and partners.
“Nancy Brown Andison is a seasoned leader, dedicated volunteer and a proud alumna,” said U of G president Dr. Charlotte Yates. “Nancy has long been a champion of the University of Guelph, and as she takes on this role as chair, her passion for our community will help U of G progress our strategic endeavours in higher education, research and community engagement.”
Attracting students and partners, ensuring financial resilience
Brown Andison said she brings a pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to helping govern the University during what she calls a transformational period in its history. She will draw on her business and leadership expertise honed as a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers and an IBM Canada executive as well as her family farm background.
The Board and U of G continue to impress upon governments the importance of university research and teaching to economic and social well-being for the province and country.
At the same time, she said, the institution needs to look to other revenue sources to supplement public funding and address U of G’s budget deficit. “We own this responsibility,” she said. “We need to come together as a community and make tough decisions about our priorities and where we put our resources.”
“The Board is responsible for oversight, supporting the senior leadership team in determining which opportunities are best for the long-term success of the institution,” she said.
The University is exploring efficiencies and effectiveness, from reviewing processes to investing in technology and updating financial, human resources, research and information systems. Those systems also benefit the Board by providing pertinent data and analytics needed for making informed governance decisions, said Brown Andison.
“We also need to ensure that we remain a highly attractive institution to students,” she said. “Students benefit from opportunities to link their studies with experiential learning in both private- and public-sector organizations. We need to be engaged with external organizations to have students ready to hit the ground running to face the world’s challenges.”
Enhancing diversity at the Board of Governors table
During her tenure as a Board member, she said, the University has worked to map out its future. Brown Andison belonged to the advisory committee that, along with former president Dr. Franco Vaccarino, developed the University’s current strategic framework, Our Path Forward.
This past summer, she collaborated with Yates to finalize the new strategic plan, initiated under Board chair predecessor Shauneen Bruder.
That document lays out institutional priorities and will guide decision-making. Brown Andison said several of those priorities are already being supported and advanced through recent Board decisions and initiatives.
The Board has worked to enhance diversity around the Board of Governors table, inviting new perspectives and prompting often-challenging discussions, she said. “We have an outstanding Board composed of highly skilled and committed individuals who care deeply for this institution and its success. It is truly an honour to have the opportunity to work with such a talented and devoted group who are prepared to take tough decisions.”
Notably, the Board voted in 2020 for divestment of fossil fuels in its endowment portfolio. That decision demonstrated U of G’s commitment to sustainability – a commitment that extends to various teaching and research initiatives across campus, said Brown Andison.
The divestment decision followed a recommendation from the University administration and the Board’s finance committee, chaired by Brown Andison.
U of G was among the first Canadian universities to commit to fossil fuel divestment, she said. “Although many have now adopted similar policies, we were on the forefront.”
‘Why wouldn’t you want to be part of this place?’
She aims to continue to foster U of G leadership, building on its longstanding strengths.
“My goal for my three-year term as chair is to help the University gain global recognition in teaching, research and student success,” she said. “I want to see us positioned for reputational growth in areas that the University of Guelph can and should excel at in order to make a real contribution to society and the world – to improve life.”
Among those areas of strength, Brown Andison points to research and teaching in One Health – the intersection of human, animal, plant and environmental health – embodied in a new undergraduate program and the University’s One Health Institute.
She also highlights research and teaching across agri-food, biological and social sciences, the arts, engineering and business programs, including the cross-campus commitment to environmental sustainability. Given that breadth, said Brown Andison, “Why wouldn’t you want to be part of this place?”
Agri-food studies opened doors to career, volunteer prospects
Brown Andison has been part of U of G since she arrived here to study agriculture in the mid-1970s.
She developed her love of the agri-food industry at Glenrothes Farm, a top Canadian Shorthorn operation run by her parents. Brown Andison now operates the farm in partnership with her brother.
Both of her parents were schoolteachers and lifelong learners, and Brown Andison credits them with instilling her own passion for learning.
“I cannot remember a time when I was not thinking of going to the University of Guelph,” she said. “As a young child, I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
“My education in agriculture ranging from science and economics to technology has been so applicable to every direction my career has taken me,” she said, referring to a career in consulting and business services.
She has served on many boards of directors in fields including the arts, international development, sustainable energy production and agri-food.
Brown Andison was named a Distinguished Alumna by the Department of Food, Agricultural and Rural Economics, and received U of G’s Alumni Volunteer Award of Excellence in 2019.