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The dean with the long legs and big visions says goodbye

Visible, visionary and ambitious – both for himself and others. As dean, Allan Flyvbjerg has managed to make people take notice. Now he is leaving AU to become director of the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen.

With his 205 centimetres, it is difficult to miss Allan Flyvbjerg, not only physically and also symbolically as a very influential and at times demanding dean, who has left visible signature in the public debate when it comes to health research and education.

And a dean who has a way with words and gestures.

"Do you watch football?" asks Allan Flyvbjerg as he begins the rhythmic clapping made famous as Island’s unique rallying cry during the European Championships.

The scene is the graduation ceremony for the new medical doctors at the end of June. In the university's Main Hall, Allan Flyvbjerg has hosted choral singing, celebratory speeches and the pledging of the Hippocratic oath. In keeping with tradition, the new medical doctors then received a standing ovation. But before the applause ends the dean takes the microphone.

Now more than 160 newly qualified doctors and family members spread their arms and begin the characteristic clapping with a deep 'HUUH', increasing in intensity until it culminates in a cheering round of applause.

Has an eye for AU and the world at the same time

"Typical Allan", says Anne-Marie Engel, Director of Research at the Lundbeck Foundation and the key note speaker at the celebration.

"Of course he uses the football context to say congratulations to the doctors, and gets everybody involved. There’s no doubt that a dean has many difficult decisions to make, but Allan is good at grabbing the moment and using it positively," says Anne-Marie Engel.

As director of research at the Lundbeck Foundation she works closely with Allan Flyvbjerg, who she describes as a strong dean with an impressive talent for creating coherence and giving the university a voice in public.

"Allan has problematised the degree programme resizing, pointed out the development potential in precision medicine and warned about the consequences of taxing foundations. All while leaving a clear university fingerprint. He has also been able to look outwards at the world in general and inwards at the university at the same time. It is also important for him to get people to meet and have discussions, and he is good at letting himself be inspired by what he hears", says Anne-Marie Engel.

Constructive partner

These are precisely the competences that Allan Flyvbjerg has needed since joining Aarhus University's senior management team as dean in November 2010. He arrived in the middle of the university's comprehensive reorganisation somersault, while at Health he was faced with picking up the pieces after the formation of the new faculty.

Since then he has helped to create a formal collaboration with the Central Denmark Region, to consolidate the dental degree programmes in a single department, oversee a revised degree programme in medicine and also a new procedure for admitting quota 2 students to the degree programme. A small selection of the initiatives that Allan Flyvbjerg has initiated and completed.

Viewed from the rector’s office, a job well done.

"For a start, Allan was given a major task of breaking down old patterns and cultures, and he has succeeded well," says AU's rector Brian Bech Nielsen in his evaluation.

He also emphasises the dean's large capacity for hard work and his ability to see the big picture.

"Allan has had an eye for finding solutions for the entire university. Being able to see a situation from a bird’s-eye perspective is a valuable trait to have, and one that has generally characterised his work in the senior management team. He has taken all of AU into consideration and his contributions have been very constructive. And, of course, Allan is always ready with a funny comment. Working together is easier when you are also having a laugh," says Brian Bech Nielsen.

Fond of the attention

Allan Flyvbjerg's propensity for debating health policy in the media has also brought attention to the rector's office.

"Allan has made Health publically visible, thereby also making AU visible. As the dean of Health he has had good media opportunities, but it is also plain to see that he is fond of the attention and thinks it is fun. And that he is good at it," says Brian Bech Nielsen.

When the news of Allan Flyvbjerg's change of jobs was mentioned in the university newspaper Omnibus, it was with the words of a Lis Sørensen song: ’her er så stille nu…’. (It’s so quiet here now…). Johnny Laursen, dean of Arts, can hum along to that. He will be saying goodbye to a close colleague. 

"Allan is generous with himself and that inspires confidence. When I joined the senior management team, I received a fantastic welcome from Allan, and we have had a good partnership," says Johnny Laursen, who also comments on Allan Flyvbjerg's legendary zeal for work.

"It really is a cliché to say that you have to get out of bed early to keep up with Allan. But it is impressive that he does not become tired during the morning while he is waiting for the rest of us to arrive at the office", says Johnny Laursen.

A modern faculty

Allan Flyvbjerg has headed a faculty that has both undergone major changes and, at the same time, opened-up towards to society in general, says Ole Steen Nielsen, vice-dean at Health. He highlights the biomedicine building, a 12,000 m2 construction project with laboratories, animal facilities, auditoriums and dissection facilities with a construction budget of DKK 850 million, and most recently the merger of the dental degree programmes into of the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health. The latter a merger driven by the dean’s vision of creating research and study programmes that match the expectations that patients have towards prevention and treatment. 

"Allan has created a modern faculty that is now tied together with the surrounding society. He has succeeded in telling the world about the role of the university and how it benefits society. And we would never have got to this point if Allan had not been persistent. He has let the same attitude infuse the faculty," says Ole Steen Nielsen.

The departments also report on a strong and clear-cut dean with high expectations for independent department heads.

Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine, Christian Lindholst:

"Allan Flyvbjerg is an employer who really demands sound financial management and progress. In return, he entrusts you with decision-making authority, so that you feel like a real manager and not just an administrator at his department." 

Made the region conscious of AU 

When Allan Flyvbjerg took up his position as dean, he announced more collaboration with the region. The goal was to bring research closer to the daily clinical practice at the hospitals.

A task that he can tick off, according to Ole Thomsen, director with special responsibility for the healthcare sector in the Central Denmark Region.

"Allan has really made the region conscious of the university. He has shown us the strength and quality of having university research close to clinical practice," says Ole Thomsen, mentioning the establishment of the university clinics at the regional hospitals as a product of the partnership between the university and the region.

"This is not Allan's work alone, but his ability to describe the goal so you can see the potential has been really crucial. It is quite an achievement", says Ole Thomsen.

Unpretentious but vain

The ability to perform and communicate in a complex environment with many stakeholders is something that editor-in-chief Nicolai Döllner from the Danish health newspaper Dagens Medicin highlights.

He describes Allan Flyvbjerg as a notable lobbyist.

"Allan Flyvbjerg has been good at utilising his position to get involved in things. He is a driven strategist, knows countless people involved in health policy, and he is a master of the communication genres, from short tweets to long, thorough feature articles in the Sunday papers. He has a great understanding of who he needs to network with and who he should avoid. But there are also examples where he has handled things less intelligently," says Nicolai Döllner, going on to mention the case of the paediatric heart surgeon, who following an emotional discussion went to the Capital Region of Denmark at the beginning of the year.

"Here Flyvbjerg ended up promoting something that he should have stayed away from in my opinion. But when he gets involved in a case he gets involved one thousand per cent, and he does not always look back," says Nicolai Döllner.

He characterises Allan Flyvbjerg as unpretentious – but vain.

"Anyone who has been inside the dean’s office has seen the imposing wall of diplomas. I have also never met other people who, on their CV, have noted their position on Dagens Medicin’s top 100 list of influential people in the healthcare sector. And how they have moved up and down the list over the years," says Nicolai Döllner.

"A dean of health who has burst out of the normal framework". That is the brief characteristic from the chair of the Danish Medical Association, Andreas Rudkjøbing.

"Allan is a strong player in health policy who has gotten involved in debates about patient involvement, doctors' self-policing and, of course, education.  There have been a few occasions where he has gotten involved without having checked all the details, but it is refreshing to see and he should be praised for being quick off the mark," says Andreas Rudkjøbing.

He thinks one of Allan Flyvbjerg's strengths is that he is not afraid to make enemies.

"He has been hard-nosed in pursuing Aarhus University's interests," says Andreas Rudkjøbing.

Handshakes for everyone

A tour around Allan Flyvbjerg's professional network results in adjectives such as; 'fast', 'informal', 'enthusiastic', and 'appreciative'. He has a reputation for being a good listener who is willing to adjust his position if the argumentation is good enough. He is the type of leader who stands at the door of the faculty’s summer party and greets each one of the hundreds of employees individually with a strong handshake.

His closest employees also paint a picture of a dean who is clearly impatient when meetings drag on and who cannot conceal his irritation when people are late or unprepared for meetings.

Methodical and impatient

But never indifferent, according to Anne Marie Bundsgaard, vice-chair of the faculty liaison committee.

She has known Allan Flyvbjerg since he was a young, long-limbed medical student running around what was then the Department of Biochemistry, where she and her biomedical laboratory scientist colleague Lisbeth worked. Flyvbjerg turned out to be solely interested in Lisbeth, who he later married, says Anne Marie Bundsgaard. She also remembers him as impatient, and that characteristic has persisted, she says.

"As employee representative you can get the feeling that Allan has already taken a decision long before we begin discussions at the local liaison committee meetings. I can simply see in his eyes; how reluctant he is when we have to review the budget yet again. But he is methodical and he is intent on seeing that the collaboration between the management and staff functions. It is also very important for him that we leave the meetings on friendly terms, even though we are in disagreement," says Anne Marie Bundsgaard.

She is not surprised to see the dean move to the Steno Diabetes Center in Copenhagen. "It must be a dream job for Allan. To be able to tie treatment and knowledge about diabetes together in this framework. He is the right man for the Steno Diabetes Center.  He will be missed at Health, but he is going to be in the right element," says Anne Marie Bundsgaard.

Diabetes doctor

Allan Flyvbjerg (born 1959) was consultant and professor, department chair at the Department of Endocrinology and Internal Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital before becoming dean at Aarhus University in 2010. Between 2000-2011, he was chairman of the Danish Diabetes Association. He has thus far published 590 scientific articles on diabetes and related complications. In 2017, an international textbook on diabetes will be published, which he has written together with colleagues from Singapore, UK and USA. He has received a wide-range of national and international prizes and awards for his work. Most recently the Erhoff Prize in 2011. Link to PURE

Substitute dean

Current Vice-dean for Research at Health, Ole Steen Nielsen, has been appointed acting Dean of the Faculty of Health at Aarhus University. Ole Steen Nielsen is not an applicant for the permanent position.

Come and say goodbye to Allan Flyvbjerg