Aston University celebrates graduates' success


18 July 2016 

Aston University is holding its graduation ceremonies in the grand surroundings of Birmingham Town Hall all this week. 

There will be nine degree ceremonies in total at the grade-1 listed landmark, which first opened as a music hall in 1834. Throughout the week, more than 1,800 students from across Aston’s four Schools will receive their degrees and will be commended for their hard work. 

During the ceremonies, the University will also present 23 honorary degrees to prominent Aston graduates, luminaries and leading figures from throughout the University’s history. 

This year, Aston celebrated the 50th anniversary of its award of a Royal Charter and status as a University. It was thought fitting that the occasion should be marked by honouring some of its most successful ‘home grown’ individuals. 

The honorary graduates are as follows:   

Julia King, The Baroness Brown of Cambridge 

After an academic career at Cambridge University, Julia held senior business and engineering posts at Rolls-Royce for eight years. She returned to academia as Principal of the Engineering Faculty at Imperial College, London, becoming Vice-Chancellor of Aston University in 2006. 

Julia advises Government as a member of the Committee on Climate Change, the Science and Technology Honours Committee and as the UK’s Low Carbon Business Ambassador.  She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Decarbonizing Energy, and was an inaugural member of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology’s Governing Board. 

In 2015 Julia was elevated to the peerage as a crossbench peer, becoming The Baroness Brown of Cambridge. 

Ismail El Gizouli 

Ismail has been a world-leading specialist in energy, Environment and climate change issues for more than 35 years. He received a Masters in Operation Research and Statistics from Aston University in 1980 before joining the Sudan Ministry of Energy. 

He then worked for the Higher Council for Environment in Sudan from 1997 until 2014. Ismail has been a member of the bureau of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the world’s preeminent climate change bodies, since 2002. 

He Chaired the IPCC in 2015. 

Allen Leatt 

Allen Leatt is the Chief Executive of the International Marine Contractors Association. He graduated from Aston University in 1977 with a BSc Honours degree in Civil Engineering, and has subsequently spent his entire professional career in the offshore oil and gas construction industry. 

Starting his career as a field engineer, he moved through the corporate ranks of leading industry companies to Director, Vice President and CEO levels. 

Allen was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the subsea industry. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a First Class Engineer Member of the prestigious Smeatonian Society. 

Adel Al Aali 

Adel Al Aali is currently a leading corporate figure in Bahrain. In addition to managing the finances of his family business, Haji Hassan Group, he is the Chairman of a multi-specialist hospital and on the Boards of several listed and closely held companies in the fields of insurance, construction and media in Bahrain. 

After completing his BSc in Aston, he has progressed to management studies in Stanford before focusing on his family business. His strengths in strategic planning and execution have been instrumental in being selected to be on the Bahrain Economic Development Board, the premier planning body in Bahrain. 

He is s nationally elected member of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry and heading the Banking and Insurance committee of that organization as well as Health and Medical Services committee. 

Lucas Chow 

Lucas graduated with a Bachelor of Science (honours) degree from Aston University in 1978. He then worked with Hewlett Packard for 20 years before assuming various chief executive positions in SingTel Mobile, MediaCorp and Far East Orchard. 

Lucas was a recipient of the National Day Public Service Medal in 2015. 

Nainesh Patel 

Nainesh was born in Uganda in 1962 and emigrated to the UK in 1975. He graduated from Aston University with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1984. 

After graduating, Nainesh joined Alfa Laval as trainee engineer. Over the following 32 years, he has performed various roles at the company in the UK and overseas. Currently, he is part of the company’s executive management team based in Sweden. 

Robert Perrins 

Robert was educated at Marlborough College and graduated with an honours degree in Geological sciences from Aston. He joined the Berkeley Group in 1994, after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with Ernst & Young and rose to become Managing Director in 2009.  The next year he launched a major new 10 year plan for the company. This set out to make Berkeley one of the most successful, sustainable businesses in Britain. 

Under Robert's leadership, Berkeley has cemented a reputation for outstanding commercial performance and the ability to create beautiful homes in amazing places where people aspire to live. In 2011, he set up the Berkeley Foundation, a pioneering charity which supports young people and their communities. 

John Flanagan 

John Flanagan is the Dean and Professor at School of Optometry and Vision Science Program, University of California, Berkeley. 

He graduated in Optometry and Vision Sciences from Aston University, Birmingham, UK in 1980, where he later earned his PhD in 1985. In a highly successful career, John  has been Professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo and in the Director of the Glaucoma Research Unit, Toronto Western Research Institute. 

He has published widely and supervised 43 graduate students. In 2015, he was awarded a life fellowship of the British College of Optometrists. 

Laurence Callow 

Laurence, an Aston graduate, is a Partner with Bailey Montagu, leading the Life Sciences Practice. His primary focus is on senior leadership and Board level appointments. 

Previously, he gained extensive corporate leadership experience within the international healthcare and life sciences industry, including the pharmaceuticals, consumer healthcare, medical devices, diagnostics and nutrition/wellness sectors. 

Laurence has been responsible for the product development, regulatory approval and health-claim registration of several pharmaceutical, consumer health and nutrition brands. He has also built businesses in the laboratory testing, diagnostics and medical devices sectors in developed and emerging markets.

Rooney Anand

Rooney Anand joined Greene King in 2001 as Managing Director of the company’s brewing division and was appointed Chief Executive in 2005. In June 2015, Greene King acquired Spirit Pub Company plc, creating the largest retail pubs business in the UK. 

Prior to joining Greene King, Rooney built a career in the food industry, working in a variety of marketing and general management roles for United Biscuits, Terry’s Confectionery and Sara Lee. He is also senior independent director of William Morrison Supermarkets plc and chairman of Purity Soft Drinks, a private equity-backed consumer goods business. 

He graduated from Aston Business School with an MBA and grew up in nearby Walsall.

Alistair Riddell 

Alastair graduated from Aston in 1971, gained an MSC in Experimental Haematology from Birmingham University in 1973 then switched to Medicine, qualifying in 1977. 

After practicing medicine for several years and qualifying as a GP he began a career in the pharmaceutical, life science and biotech industries. He directed clinical trials of oncology and intensive care products for 10 years before moving to sales and marketing for Centocor (now J&J) and Amersham International (now GE Healthcare). 

This led to 12 years as CEO for three major UK biotech companies. He is currently Chairman of the South West Academic Health Science Network, which fosters links between the NHS, industry and universities. 

Dr Brian Tempest 

Dr Brian Tempest is Editor of the Journal of Generic Medicines and a Director of the Governance Board of the United Nations Patent Pool representing the global generic pharmaceutical industry. 

Brian received a BSc in Chemistry from Aston University in 1968 followed by a PhD in Polymer Chemistry from Lancaster University in 1971. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Medicine. 

He has worked in the Global Pharmaceutical Industry for the last 45 years. Brian worked for Glaxo where he was Regional Director-Far East and Regional Director-Middle East & Africa. Before retiring Brian worked for Ranbaxy Laboratories in India as CEO until 2005. Brian is now on the Board of several companies in India and the UK. 

Dr David Yates 

Dr David Yates was a student at Aston University from 1990 until 1997, first as an undergraduate reading for a degree in Applied and Human Biology and then as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Life and Health Sciences. 

After leaving Aston, David started his career in the pharmaceutical industry, holding positions of increasing responsibility within research and development and regulatory affairs. He is currently located in Singapore working for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare as a Director of Regulatory Affairs with global responsibility for innovative pain relief products. 

In September 2016, he will be relocating to Switzerland to take on a new role in the same organisation overseeing technical regulatory aspects for the entire pain relief portfolio. 

Shilen Thakrar 

Shilen Thakrar was born in Kampala, Uganda, in 1961. His family were expelled from the country in 1972 and were forced to leave their lives and belongings behind. They settled in the UK and Shilen went on to study Managerial & Administrative Studies at Aston University. 

On leaving Aston, Shilen joined the family business, Tilda Rice, starting initially as a loading bay supervisor and ultimately becoming CEO, having worked his way up through a number of departments. 

Tilda has grown from very humble beginnings serving the Asian community in the UK to a global business with presence in more than 40 countries and operations in the UK, India, USA and the Middle East. 

Anisa Haghdadi 

Born, raised and educated in Birmingham, Anisa is a recent graduate of Aston Business School where she read Business and Management. 

Anisa has won multiple awards for social enterprise, youth development and cultural leadership and was awarded a British Empire Medal, aged 23, for Services to Education and Young People. Founder and CEO of Beatfreeks, she is passionate about youth, art for change, and redefining the culture of enterprise so that business and social are seen as inextricable. 

Anisa blogs for Huffington Post UK and is a guest lecturer for the Creative Enterprise module at Birmingham City University. 

Euan Sutherland 

Euan was appointed as Chief Executive Officer for SuperGroup PLC (the owner of the Superdry brand) in 2014. 

Euan has served as Group Chief Executive Officer for the Co-op group of companies and Group Chief Operating Officer at Kingfisher Plc. Prior to this he was Chief Executive of AS Watson UK, the owner of Superdrug.  Euan has over 22 years’ experience within the retail and FMCG sectors having held roles with Boots, Dixons, Coca-Cola and Mars. 

Janine Garner 

Aston graduate Janine is the Founder and CEO of LBDGroup, a community of successful and results oriented businesswomen and entrepreneurs working together to drive  continued change and success. 

She spent 20 years working across the world in corporate marketing roles for some of the world’s best brands including Ralph Lauren, Oroton, Jaeger,  Sainsbury’s Homebase and Citizen Watches. 

Janine is also a sought after keynote speaker, mentor and advisor. She writes every week for her own blog and is a regular commentator in the business print and online  media, including The Huffington Post, CEO Magazine, Success Magazine,  BRW, Women’s Agenda, AIM and The Australian. 

Rob Brighouse 

Having previously obtained a civil engineering degree at Leeds University, Rob graduated from Aston University in 1988 with an MBA. He has spent over 30 years in the rail industry in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong, primarily involved in the delivery of major infrastructure projects. 

More recently, after setting up the London Overground operation, he became the Managing Director of Chiltern Railways, which provides rail services between London and Birmingham. In this capacity, he oversaw the record growth of this business on the back of the best service punctuality in the country. 

In 2016, Rob was appointed as a non-Executive Director on the Network Rail Board and is also involved as a founder partner of a UK based high tech start up in the transport sector. 

Mike Bandar 

Mike is a founding Partner of Turn Partners, a startup studio focused on the acquisition, turnaround and creation of online businesses. The company has developed a small diverse business portfolio including a dating business, a social media management tool, a media agency and several small technology projects. 

The Aston graduate has owned and operated businesses since the age of 15 and was recently listed on the 2016 Maserati 100, which recognises entrepreneurs who are generously giving their time and resources to support the next generation of young entrepreneurs. 

Nick Holzherr 

Nick graduated with a 1st class honorary degree in IBML from Aston University. He is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of, the business for which he has raised over $2m in funding from technology investors. 

He first pitched to Lord Sugar following getting to the final of the BBC Apprentice 2012, where he achieved the series' best task-win record. 

Nick and Whisk have been featured in leading publications including Newsweek, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Next Web and have won multiple awards including a Cisco BIG award, The Drum’s "One to Watch" honours and The Grocer’s "Top New Talent" award. 

Dr Stephen Billingham

Dr Stephen Billingham is Chairman of Punch Taverns plc, Chairman of Anglian Water Group Ltd and Chairman of Urenco Ltd. He is also a non-executive director of Balfour Beatty plc. 

He was Group Finance Director of British Energy plc, the FTSE 100 power generator and was the architect of its sale to EDF in 2009. Dr Billingham was also Group Finance Director of WS Atkins plc, the UK's largest engineering consultancy, during its successful turnaround in the early 2000's. 

He holds a PhD from Aston University and is a Fellow of the Association of Corporate Treasurers. 

Adam Blaskey 

Having graduated from Aston with a BSc in International Business & Modern Languages (IBML), Adam Blaskey started his career as an Investment Banker in Paris before returning to London to work for UBS. In 2003 he left The City and founded Northbeach, the award-winning prime central London residential property developer. 

Adam went on on to found The Clubhouse, London’s leading business club, lounge and meeting space. 

Whilst still involved in prime central London residential development through his businesses Northbeach and Northbeach Capital Partners, Adam’s major focus is on growing The Clubhouse by opening additional locations over the next few years, both in London and internationally. 

Geetu Bharwaney 

Aston graduate Geetu Bharwaney is the Managing Director of Ei World, one of the first UK companies focused on the application of Emotional Resilience and Emotional Intelligence in business.  

Over the last 26 years Geetu has built a specialist understanding of how emotion affects performance, operating globally in the application of Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Resilience as an entrepreneur, human resources specialist and business coach. 

Geetu served as an Aston governor on the University's Council in 2012-2014 and  worked on a leadership project with managers across the University in 2011-12.

Matthew Crummack 

Matthew Crummack was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of in early June 2016. Matthew also serves as a Non-Executive Director at National Express plc (NEX:LSE), and as a Director of his own advisory company Interventus Ltd. 

Previously Matthew served as CEO of from 2011 to 2015, until the business was acquired by Bravofly Rumbo Group (subsequently renamed Group) in March 2015 when he became Deputy CEO and Chief Integration Officer until December 2015. 

Matthew received a BSc in International Business and Modern Languages from Aston University. 

Eva Eisenschimmel 

After reading Business Administration & French (Combined Honours) at Aston University and graduating in 1984, Eva built her experience in multiple sectors and in businesses of different sizes. 

She can best be described as a brand, colleague and customer champion. At any one time, she has managed 10,000 colleagues, been responsible for collecting over £5 billion revenue, engaged with 20 million customers, helped complete one acquisition, one divestment and three integrations. 

She was a founder board member of Go ON UK; an alliance committed to digital inclusion and is an NED serving on the board of First Utility.