Universities must "shake hands honourably" with managers with "ponytails and sandals" who are wasting money and replace them with people "with the guts to take things forward".
That was the view of Tim Marshall, chief executive of the UK's Janet IT network, who told a conference on university shared services that the sector was "way off the pace" in achieving efficiency savings through linked activities.
The former head of Disney's international TV operation said institutions needed to recruit "professionals" who could help drive change and were not afraid of being hated.
He said that setting up lean shared vehicles to run services across more than one university would reward academics by giving them the freedom and space to carry out their roles without burdensome red tape.
"When you put this stuff out to professionals, sometimes you can sleep better at night than (you can if you're working with) the man in the, dare I say it, ponytail and sandals - a committed man but who might not be providing the service at the same level as some of the people who are providing services for FTSE 100 companies," Mr Marshall told the conference in London last week.
"For some people, it is better to shake hands honourably and celebrate the contribution they have made. You have got to find a way of getting people into those positions of influence and leadership that have the guts to take things forward and don't mind people sticking pins in little plastic models (of them)."
Mr Marshall said that when he first worked in the higher education sector he was told that he would "never be short of money". "That is awful and that is a disgrace and perhaps some of that is coming back to bite us now," he added.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, said there was still some confusion about the meaning of a shared service.
He said a study of senior managers at institutions in the capital carried out by umbrella group London Higher, of which Professor Gillies is chair, shows that many managers believe outsourcing is the same as a shared service.
The survey also reveals that human resources, IT, procurement and facilities management are among the areas seen as most feasible for sharing among institutions.
TAXING PROBLEM: CAN BANDING TOGETHER SAVE BILLIONS?
A "culture of resistance" to sharing services still exists among universities that could stand to make savings of up to 30 per cent if they joined together on some non-core provision, a business chief executive has said.
Sean O'Shea, who heads campus infrastructure firm UPP, told The Future of Shared Services conference that the business case for banding together on activities such as procurement was "compelling" and billions of pounds could be saved.
But he said that barriers such as fears over whether to trust rival institutions and technical difficulties, including worries over the creation of extra tax liabilities, were deterring universities.
"There appears to be a culture of resistance among some institutions and this can make identifying a committed partner difficult," he told the conference.
He said the VAT barrier to shared services - created by the fact that universities potentially faced an unrecoverable tax bill by moving activities outside their organisation - could be solved through UPP proposals for joint-venture companies that are currently being assessed by the Treasury.