A sharp focus

John Sharples joined the University of Wolverhampton’s Board of Governors in 1996 and has been Chairman for five years. He is a former Executive Director of construction and facilities management company Carillion plc.

What does being a University governor involve ?

The role falls into two parts. The formal part is one of corporate governance ensuring the University has strong leadership, its policies and strategies are sound and that it is financially viable both now and in the future, and that the funds from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) are being appropriately spent.


Equally, if not more important, is the role where governors support the University’s Executive by challenging strategic thinking and policies, and testing them to make sure that they are sound.


Governors come from a diverse background and we’re able to offer insight on all sorts of different issues.

Why did you decide to become a governor?

Working in Wolverhampton for Tarmac, which became Carillion, I had a long association with the city both in business and socially. I have always thought it is important for any organisation to have good interaction with its neighbours. I have always been interested in the education, training and development of people and felt that the University was a place where I could contribute and add value.

What do you enjoy most about the role and find most rewarding?

Higher education is a very challenging environment and it is exciting to be a part of that.


The region has gone through difficult times from an economic point of view and the University has an important role to play in terms of regeneration which is very rewarding.  We work with businesses and provide solutions through applied research, as well as training graduates who contribute to the success of the region.

What do you think has been the University’s greatest achievement/development during your time as Chairman of Governors?

There are two things really. One is the development of our infrastructure; our new buildings and the refurbishment of existing facilities. This has made a significant difference to staff and students, creating a better place to learn and work. I was Chairman of the working group for estates so I feel that I have been able to contribute towards this.


I am also proud of our reputation for widening access. We were doing this before the government was promoting it as a policy and we are hailed as a beacon of success for our achievements in this area. We are giving opportunities to people who wouldn’t normally have been expected to have a university education.

How would you like to see the University developing in future years?

It is vital for any organisation to grow to thrive.  This is a big challenge but we’re increasing our partnerships with employers, particularly within the region, to ensure we’re providing courses appropriate to their needs, as well as providing business solutions. We also need to continue to develop links with other organisations such as colleges to encourage students to progress their education. 


We have existing success in these areas and we can build on this. 

If you were at University today, what would you like to study?

I think something associated with architecture would be really interesting, perhaps looking at the historical aspect of this rather than technical side.

What are your other interests?

Since I retired, my wife and I have enjoyed travelling the world and the more you are exposed to the history of other civilisations, the more interesting it becomes. We have visited Guatemala and Honduras as well as the US.


I also enjoy walking and reading. I’m currently reading The Age of Uncertainty by John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist. It shows there are many parallels between the economic situation in the 60s and 70s and today.

What do you feel has been your greatest personal or profesional achievement?

Achieving a senior role within industry and being fortunate enough to be at the birth of the Public-Private Partnership initiative, enabling us as a business to develop projects and bring all sorts of skills together that would usually be segregated, bringing economic benefits and improved services.

Who do you admire and why?

I think leadership is very important and admire any proven political leader from the past who stood the test of time.

Do you have any more ambitions for the future?

I have just taken up a role of non-executive Director for the NHS. I’m not sure what the future holds but I’d like to  continue to add a little value to something along the way.