PROFESSOR Tom Walley, who came from England to after "a global search" to run the Hunter Medical Research Institute is parting ways with the organisation.
Staff say they had no warning of what was happening until they were told at a regular Friday morning meeting addressed by chairman Kyle Loades, that Professor Walley, HMRI's chief executive, had "resigned".
A short 165-word statement was emailed out early Friday afternoon, was headed "change of director".
The statement said Professor Walley "is resigning from his role" and that the board had appointed Professor Mike Calford - a former HMRI board member, deputy-vice chancellor of research at the University of Newcastle and most recently provost of Australian National University in Canberra, as an interim director.
Professor Calford would start his interim director role on November 17.
"Tom has delivered a new strategy and structure to position HMRI to be able to better support researchers and the community in a changing research funding environment," Mr Loades said in Friday's statement, published in full, below.
It said he had left family in the UK to come to Australia to take up the role and would return to the UK in the new year.
With word spreading through Newcastle's medical and research communities, the Newcastle Herald has been told by multiple medical and health sources that Professor Walley was forced out.
The Herald's sources say that the "strategy and structure" referred to by Mr Loades were "the right ones", but they were not universally popular.
They say Professor Walley's departure is such a blow that the future of the organisation is at stake.
The Herald has left attempted to obtain a comment from Professor Walley.
When his appointment was announced in July 2018, Mr Loades said "Professor Walley's exceptional leadership qualities, strategic vision and entrepreneurial acumen will help take HMRI to new heights as the Institute celebrates its 20th anniversary and looks beyond".
Professor Walley was described at the time as "a leading research academic with distinguished credentials in clinical governance and health technology assessment".
He had been running the an Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool, in England, having also served as a director of Health Technology Assessment with the UK-based National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
He had been scheduled to start in November 2018, and replaced previous head Professor Michael Nilsson.
"The HMRI Board found the right person in Michael Nilsson back in 2011 and we've attracted another global leader of the highest calibre to succeed him," Mr Loades said in 2018.
"It followed an exhaustive recruitment process that unearthed an outstanding field of candidates."
HMRI describes itself as an independent not-for-profit organisation that works in conjunction with the University of Newcastle and the state government's Hunter New England Local Health District. Its researchers vie for grant funding, and the institute has an active fund-raising arm.
Earlier this year it was announced that HMRI and Newcastle Art Gallery would share equally in a bequest of $20 million left by a Hunter woman, Valerie Ryan, and her late husband John, who had established business interests.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article described Professor Walley as chief executive. Although he is displayed on the HMRI website as top of the executive team, HMRI chairman Kyle Loades said Mr Walley's title - and that of the three previous heads before him - was "director".
HMRI media release
October 23, 2020 For immediate release [12.47pm Friday]
Change of director at HMRI
HMRI Director, Professor Tom Walley, is resigning from his role.
The Board has appointed Professor Mike Calford as Interim Director. Prof Walley will hand over to Prof Calford on November 17.
HMRI Board chair, Kyle Loades, said Prof Calford's previous roles, including Provost of Australian National University, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research at The University of Newcastle, and former HMRI Board member, make him well equipped and experienced for this role.
Mr Loades thanked Prof Walley for his contribution to HMRI and wished him all the best in his future endeavours.
"Tom has delivered a new strategy and structure to position HMRI to be able to better support researchers and the community in a changing research funding environment," Mr Loades said.
Prof Walley left family in the UK to come to Australia to take up the role. He will return to the UK in the new year.
The Board will commence recruitment for a new Director in the coming months.
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