Monty Finniston read metallurgical chemistry at the University of Glasgow, where he gained his PhD and then lectured in metallurgy.
He spent the years of the Second World War in the Royal Naval Scientific Service, seconded to the Chalk River Laboratories in Canada working on the application of nuclear power to submarines. After the war he worked in Canada, and then was appointed Chief Metallurgist at the Atomic Energy Authority, Harwell. The years 1948-58 which he spent there were a time of rapid development of nuclear power. Finniston initiated and oversaw a wide-ranging research programme into the many metallurgical problems associated with nuclear reactor design, involving uranium fuel elements, their light alloy cladding, and reactor containment vessels. In 1958 he moved to north-east England to become Director of the Nuclear Research Centre newly founded by the Newcastle engineering firm C. A. Parsons. When enthusiasm for atomic power waned in the early 1960s, he persuaded Parsons' board to convert the Centre into International Research and Development Ltd. (IRD), a wide-ranging contract engineering research company.
In 1975 he was awarded the A. A. Griffith Medal and Prize.
In 1976 he was invited to deliver the Marlow (Scotland) Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He chose the subject 'The Developing Role of Management in Industry'.
In response to complaints from industry about a shortage of qualified engineers, the government in 1977 invited Finniston to set up a committee of enquiry into British engineering. In 1979 the committee delivered the "Finniston Report", which addressed the concerns that engineering was of relatively low status in the UK. One of the main recommendations was that universities should offer engineering degrees (BEng and MEng) rather than just science degrees (BSc). This report also led to the establishment of the Engineering Council in 1982, and of WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) in 1984.
Sir Monty Finniston was Chancellor of Stirling University from 1979 to 1988, in succession to Lord Robbins. In 1981 he founded the Prison Reform Trust (PRT). He was President of the Association for Project Management from 1984 until his death in 1991.
He died on 2 February 1991.
In 1936 he married Miriam Singer.
- Petch, Norman James (1992). "Sir Harold Montague Finniston. 15 August 1912-2 February 1991". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 38: 132. JSTOR 769999. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1992.0007.
- BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
- http://www.is.stir.ac.uk/docs/Degreespubitemlevel.pdf (University of Stirling archive retrieved on 29 Dec 2011)
- History of the Association for Project Management 1972 - 2010, Association for Project Management