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Planning a Smooth Presidential Transition

After a successful ten-year presidency, Peter Johnson’s contract at Seraphim University is up for renewal. Peter’s accomplishments include two well-executed strategic plans, a successfully completed capital campaign, strong enrollments, a number of new buildings, and an increased endowment. He has recently turned 65 and, despite a bout with cancer (now in remission for two years), is eager to serve for another 2-3 years before retiring. Several trustees, however, have approached board chair Harvey Petruso with reservations about renewing the President’s contract. Martha O’Connell, an entrepreneur and recently elected board member, feels that Johnson is not bringing cutting edge ideas to the table – particularly in the area of online learning and educational technology. Mark Begel, chair of the development committee, thinks it is time to gear up a new campaign and feels the timing of a presidential transition 2-3 years down the road would be awkward. Vice Chair Richard Lefkowitz points out that President Johnson has led and completed two strategic plans and that it’s time for a new vision. Also, he notes, that it would be a waste of time to develop another strategic plan if the incumbent wasn’t around to implement it.

Board Chair Petruso finds these arguments compelling, but he is also aware that President Johnson enjoys considerable loyalty among a number of other trustees and is popular with alumni, parents, students, and faculty. He wonders how to assure the University’s continued progress without disrupting the community. He also wonders, assuming that President Johnson steps down, how best to organize the search for his successor.

How could we help?

· We can act as a confidential sounding board with trustees to determine if there is a consensus about when a presidential transition would be best for the institution.

· If a presidential change is appropriate, we can suggest strategies that will allow Board leadership to negotiate a smooth transition with the incumbent president. If needed, we can act as an intermediary between the board and president to maintain smooth communications.

· We can also advise the Board on the composition of a search committee, selection of a search firm, and other issues related to the selection and installation of new leadership.