Dean enjoying Dunedin activity

Otago Business School dean Robin Gauld. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
Otago Business School dean Robin Gauld. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
Robin Gauld spends more time listening to music than making it these days.

In his youth, the dean of the University of Otago's Business School was part of a post-punk band described as one of the most inventive to come out of New Zealand.

So when the guitarist-turned-academic says life has been interesting, he is not really understating it.

The Skeptics became notorious in 1987 for a graphic music video entitled AFFCO, which was filmed inside a meat works.

By then, Prof Gauld (53) had already left the group.

''They went on to much more fame after I left and maybe that's why,'' he quipped.

Nowadays, he tended to listen to a lot of music and did not play much, although there was some unfinished music that he made just over a year ago.

He was born in Taranaki. His family made several moves before settling in Palmerston North where Prof Gauld did his secondary schooling.

It was at Freyberg High School that the Skeptics were formed and he acknowledged it was a boundary-pushing venture.

''I think we had real audacity ... we couldn't play ... we did our own thing. It was very disruptive music in many ways ... quite unlistenable.''

The band played in Dunedin, including at the Captain Cook several times, The Oriental and the student union, and he remembered it fondly.

''It was great. As a young person, it's like your dream to be on the road playing in a band and making loud music and pushing boundaries, which is what we did.

''We seriously pushed the boundaries ... it was quite radical. We had a cult following, I guess. The music has sustained itself over the years. There's still a lot of interest in that band.''

But when Prof Gauld couldn't see where it was all heading, he started to work in other areas of employment, including in live theatre as a stage manager, prop maker and set builder.

While travelling overseas with a fellow Skeptics band member, he decided it was time to go home and attend university.

''The rest is history. I never left,'' he said.

Prof Gauld completed his undergraduate and master's degrees at Victoria University, in public policy, administration and management, and his PhD at the University of Hong Kong.

In 1997, he moved to Dunedin to join the University of Otago, where he has had a variety of roles, most recently heading the department of preventive and social medicine - the university's largest and most diverse department.

He was also founding director of the university's Centre for Health Systems which spanned the business school and the Dunedin School of Medicine.

When the business school role came up, with the retirement of Prof George Benwell, he thought it was a position he could ''probably make a go of''.

He had never really thought that it was time for a change and was not searching for a new job, when he accidentally saw the role advertised.

He had a long association with the business school and saw opportunities to help create much closer relationships and bonds between health sciences and the school.

He started in the role in December last year. It was a time of ''huge opportunity'' in the business school and there was a lot going on.

The extensive redevelopment of the Commerce Building that was under way was enormously exciting, he said.

There was also a focus on driving better performance and also what the future looked like, with a strategic planning exercise under way.

He saw great opportunities for the business school positioning itself with other divisions in the university in terms of things like entrepreneurship and innovation.

The school had very good staff, with international experts in their areas, and they were positive and forward-thinking.

They also needed to show the relevance of the work they were doing in terms of confronting big issues.

Impact was important - and that was all about relevance and people taking note of what was being done and using the results of that research.

Business must be a force for good. There were ''unprecedented'' challenges today, including the likes of climate change.

Government could only go so far and it was up to business and society to also confront those challenges, he said.

The business school had a very real role in leading and influencing debate and helping enable debate and also discussion across the community.

He was keen for it to work as an intermediary with the local business community. It had the space and also the resources, in terms of staff.

It did not have a commercial stake in the community but it did have the ability to make ''very important discussions'' and support embryonic activities around innovation.

Dunedin was in a very exciting space. It had a good sized population, which was highly educated, people loved living in the city, and it was very affordable.

There was quite a lot of start-up activity hand he believed GigCity was a very important opportunity.

One of the big questions in the city was how to develop Dunedin as a place of start-up businesses and how to attract students not just to come and ''have a great time'' and get a degree, but to also start a business.

There was the highest concentration of young people in the country revolving around the Otago campus, and a lot of really good ideas.

It was about bringing together all those young people, the start-up community and initiatives such as GigCity and ''breathe more life'' into it. It was a long-term gain and would not happen overnight.

He believed there was an enormous opportunity around GigCity. He recently spent two days in meetings in Palo Alto, California, where people could not believe the speed of internet in Dunedin.

The business school's MBA programme was a very important part of its fabric and it had some ''marvellous achievements'' recently.

Otago's MBA was the only course in New Zealand to be included in the QS Global 250 Business Schools report, ranked 28th in the Asia-Pacific region for graduate employability.

The online MBA, the only one offered in New Zealand, was ranked fourth-best in the world by London-based CEO Magazine.

The programme started only two years ago and to get up against the best in the world was a ''stunning achievement''.

Those in senior academic management positions at Otago were committed to being research-active. Any of Prof Gauld's ''dull moments'' tended to be filled with research, and he had several projects under way.

An avid walker he did a lot of his thinking during his walks to and from work and during lunchtime strolls.

Dunedin was a great place to live and the University of Otago was a great place to be employed as an academic.

''It's a wonderful environment in which to get things done,'' he said.

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