2008 - 2021
Dr Hugh White
Before becoming Director of the Post Graduate Foundation in Veterinary Science (PGFVSc - now the Centre for Veterinary Education [CVE]) in 2008, Dr Hugh White was a successful mixed veterinary practitioner, establishing practices in Kempsey (8 years) and Armidale, New South Wales (over 20 years). At Armidale in particular, he created an efficient and effective team of veterinarians prepared to tackle the full range of diseases of companion animals, horses, and production species. Hugh had very specific expertise in bovine and equine medicine and surgery, but he was a capable and confident small animal clinician, only referring the most demanding of cases to regional specialists.
In 1999, whilst still at Armidale, Hugh was encouraged by Professor Reuben Rose (Dean of the then Faculty of Veterinary Science) and Dr Garth McGilvray (President of the Australian Veterinary Association) to apply for the Director’s position of the PGFVSc at the University of Sydney, owing to the retirement of Dr Douglas Bryden. Hugh was offered the important role by George Mack, President of the PGFVSc Council but had to decline the full-time role because of practice commitments. However, because of his expertise and long-time association with the PGFVSc as an active consumer and provider of continuing education, he was invited by George Mack six months later to serve on the PGFVSc Council to support the new Director, Dr Bill Howey.
While on Council, Hugh assisted Bill Howey to navigate the financial and information technology maze that had developed due to the dramatic expansion of the PGFVSc during the Directorship of Doug Bryden. He continued to fulfill this role when Bill Howey stepped down at the end of 2002 and was replaced by Dr Michele Cotton, the first female Director.
When George Mack resigned as President from the PGFVSc Council, he nominated Hugh as his successor. Consequently, the Council unanimously voted for Hugh to become President and to provide pivotal leadership at a time when the PGFVSc was under financial, management and strategic planning threat. Through this difficult period, Hugh continued to support the Director, Michele Cotton, but when she decided not to renew her contract at the end of 2007, Hugh had to lead the search for a new Director. Consequently, the position was advertised, but after interviewing several short-listed candidates, The University of Sydney Committee decided that none were appointable. The Dean of the then Faculty of Veterinary Science, Professor Leo Jeffcott, and the Faculty representative on Council, Professor Paul Canfield, in concert with the Head of the College of Science, Professor David Day, encouraged Hugh to stand down from being President of Council to become Director. As a full time Deputy Director had been appointed by Michele Cotton prior to her departure, Hugh White in 2008 elected to take up the Directorship of the PGFVSc on a half-time basis in order to be fiscally responsible.
From 2008 to 2013 Hugh flew to Sydney from his residence at the Sunshine Coast for one week each month and worked remotely the rest of the time. When Professor David Day resigned from the University of Sydney, and after restructuring where the Faculty of Veterinary Science came under the Umbrella of the Faculty of Science, the new Dean of Science recommended that the PGFVSc should no longer report to the Dean of Science but to the Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science. As a result, Hugh reported directly to the incoming dean, Professor Rosanne Taylor. Around the same time, the university expressed the opinion that the PGFVSc no longer fitted within their definition of a ‘Foundation’ and that the business model reflected a Centre within the University. Thankfully, Michele Cotton while Director had been prescient by registering the Centre for Veterinary Education (CVE) as a business name. Consequently, after a costly rebranding exercise and extensive placating of confused and angered loyal veterinary members of the PGFVSc, the name was altered to CVE.
At the same time, there was concerted pressure from the University of Sydney to absorb wholly or partially the newly named CVE into the larger University Centre for Continuing Education (CCE). Hugh was adamant that such a move would be disadvantageous and encouraged the establishment of an external review of CVE operations. Professors David Emery and Paul Canfield were appointed to the review panel and it was their findings that any amalgamation would be detrimental to the financial, reputational and cultural survival of the CVE, which ultimately prevented amalgamation.
Around 2011-12, it became clear to Hugh that the current CVE organisational structure had created a dysfunctional workplace and that his role as a remote Director was not providing the necessary leadership to prepare CVE for the future challenges confronting continuing veterinary educational providers. In 2013, Hugh and his wife Sally relocated to Sydney where Hugh commenced full-time employment. He engaged the University’s Human Resources team to review the CVE’s organisational structure and after due deliberation and consultation it became clear that to survive and thrive, the CVE had to be restructured to reduce the ballooning workforce and to provide clarity of roles. Consequently, the role of Deputy Director was eliminated, and three new teams were developed – administrative, educational and marketing - led by individual team leaders. After much heartache, the overall staff was reduced from 18 to 13 and a new strategic plan was developed. As a consequence of the restructure, 70% of the original staff left or were replaced over a two-year period.
Hugh’s role in restructuring and creating new teams had to be melded with the need to inform, manage and sometimes placate the current CVE clients and tutors, to maintain excellence of continuing veterinary educational programs. As part of the organisational restructure, the CVE advisory council became redundant, as it was regarded by the University as anachronistic within a Centre and an unnecessary expense. This fallout of the restructure was a bitter pill to swallow for long term financial donors and volunteer council members, who had provided years of support to numerous directors and the organisation as it grew and evolved. Another fallout of the restructure was increased University financial control over the CVE, including the appropriation of significant financial reserves built up over more than 40 years for strategic use in the future development of the organisation.
On a more positive note, during Hugh’s tenure and through restructuring, the number of Distance Education (DE) and TimeOnline (TOL) courses increased, new tutors were inducted and retiring tutors farewelled with dignity. Practical workshops were developed in surgery, ophthalmology and ultrasonology. Online delivery of courses and online assessment became the key to success. New or stronger relationships were developed with the University of Florida and the International Society for Feline Medicine and Surgery. In 2018, Hugh reverted to a part-time role so that a Deputy Director could be appointed as part of his succession planning. Dr Simone Maher was the successful appointee as Deputy Director after an open competitive process and progressively assumed the reins from Hugh over 2 years. Hugh formally retired in late March 2021, halfway through the COVID pandemic.
During Hugh’s tenure as Director of the CVE, there was a period of massive change within the profession generally and within veterinary continuing education (CE) in particular. It was a period of increasing competition from national and international veterinary CE providers. Despite these challenges, the CVE continued to operate successfully and profitably, typically meeting, or exceeding most annual budgets. The University held a two-year review of all continuing education providers during Hugh’s tenure, ironically brought about by dubious behaviour on the part of the CCE, which was deemed as putting the university reputation at risk. To Hugh’s credit, the review recommended the cessation of many continuing education bodies and tighter governance rules for those remaining, with the CVE recognised as an exemplar for others.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the contribution of Hugh’s wife, Sally, to Hugh’s success as CVE director. Notwithstanding the upheaval of a move to Sydney, Sally was an enthusiastic aide at many CVE events, with her exceptional organisational skills, eye for detail and engaging manner making her both greatly appreciated and well-liked amongst the CVE community – delegates, members and staff alike.
History will judge the value of Hugh’s tenure as Director over a thirteen-year period filled with turbulence, trials, and tribulations for the CVE. However, what cannot be denied, was Hugh’s calmness and professionalism in the face of adversity and challenge. His presidential tone and respectful demeanour were critical in developing new relationships and in preserving existing ones with multiple people in very difficult and complex times. Hugh’s handling of the complexity of university institutions and characters was particularly masterful, especially when the CVE required support during restructuring and resisting negative change. He utilised the art of compromise with both the University, tutors, staff, and clients to ensure success for the CVE. At the end of his tenure the CVE was ideally placed on an upward trajectory to continue to be successful as an educational provider to the veterinary and affiliated professions.
The CVE, the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and the wider veterinary profession around Australia owe Hugh a considerable debt of gratitude.