Sir Alec Broers

January 1, 1999

An enthusiastic ice-skater, sailor and singer, Sir Alec Broers has always emphasised the importance to universities of involvement in the real world and having fun.

When he became vice-chancellor of Cambridge University two years ago, he was open about his determination to make it a more enterprising institution, both in terms of raising money and in working with industry.

He was instrumental in bringing Cambridge a Pounds 12 million gift from Microsoft chief Bill Gates and in luring other high-tech firms to the Fens.

As master, he secured Pounds 1.75 million for Churchill College from the National Lottery's purchase of the Churchill papers and later became a trustee of the college's Thatcher archive. A long-time friend of Margaret Thatcher, he is also thought to have been important in establishing a Thatcher chair in business.

Now 60, Sir Alec was born in Calcutta but left for Sydney, Australia, with his family at age ten. He boarded at Geelong Grammar, going on to Melbourne University, where he took BScs in both physics and electronics.

His passion for electronics brought him to England, where he entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, on a choral scholarship. But a few hours after completing his PhD he left for an IBM research job in the United States, where he stayed for 20 years.

When he returned in 1984 to head Cambridge's electrical division he took an 80 per cent salary cut, describing it as "a wild midlife change".

The decision derived from his determination to carry out blue-skies research, in which he has made important breakthroughs with electron microscopes and semiconductors.

Master of Churchill in 1990 and vice-chancellor six years later, he was knighted in last year's new year's honours.

He is married with two sons and is still a keen sportsman and musician, who claims that he almost never watches television.

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