NORMAN, OK, February 25, 2018 – At the heart of the search for OU’s next president, one group unfamiliar to OU’s constituencies plays a pivotal role behind the scenes.
Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, an executive search firm being paid more than $250,000 by the university, is responsible for much of the recruitment and vetting of David Boren’s successor, two tasks vital to the success of the next president.
Though Storbeck/Pimentel has conducted numerous searches for university presidents, provosts, deans, chancellors and other executive positions, OU will be one of the largest public research universities for which the group has operated a presidential search, based on information available on the firm’s website.
Utilization of an executive search firm in presidential searches has dramatically increased in the last 20 years, according to Judith Wilde, a professor at George Mason University who has co-authored research on executive searches. Based on her research, Wilde said in 1975 only 2 percent of institutions employed the use of search firms, while by 2016 that number had climbed to 92 percent.
After analyzing OU’s search firm contract, Wilde said the firm’s exact responsibilities are “fairly typical” but ambiguous, an issue common to many similar contracts. The only information provided is the firm’s responsibility to conduct “extensive background checks” on candidates.
“What we warn people is that the only thing you know is going to be done is what is written and signed for. You’re not going to be able to hold them to anything else,” Wilde said. “This is a public university, which means you’re using public funds for a good portion of what goes on at the university. That means that your constituents are not just the faculty and the students, but it’s the entire state of Oklahoma.”
Though it is OU’s first time employing Storbeck/Pimentel, the firm has conducted a dean and provost search at Oklahoma State University.
OU presidential search committee spokesperson David Rainbolt said the firm’s assistance in the search has been valuable.
“As you might imagine, it’s always good to avail yourself in any decision making process to someone who has experience,” Rainbolt said. “This search firm is renowned for having conducted many searches in higher ed around the country, so you might imagine they’ve been helpful in many aspects of (the) process.”
Alberto Pimentel, one of the firm’s two managing partners, said the size and publicity of the OU search requires more employees to manage it.
“This is a high-visibility search, this is a big search. So in this case, you have two main partners involved in this particular search,” Pimentel said. “You don’t usually get that. In addition, we have another two senior-level associates working on this search and then we have a research staff. It’s an elaborate group.”
The firm will be paid one-third of the next president’s anticipated $500,000 salary, including bonuses, as well as a retainer of $47,917 and a capped professional fee for candidate travel expenses, according to the contract between the firm and OU. Pimentel said these costs reflect an industry standard for search firms.
Pimentel said the benefit of his firm’s employment is the background checks it performs on potential candidates but, more importantly, the ability to reach better potential candidates.
“Keep in mind the people we try to attract for these types of searches are those who are gainfully employed, doing well at their current institution and have no reason to leave their institution,” Pimentel said. “The reason for having a search firm is what we call active recruitment. We reach those individuals and explain to them why it’s important those particular individuals would be good for the position.”
Pimentel explained the three different levels of the background checks. In level one, the firm does a basic search of internet databases and periodicals to see if any troublesome information arises about the candidate.
In the second level, the group searches criminal history and civil litigation history, as well as terrorist and sex-offender databases. The second level is also where firm employees go through social media accounts of the candidate and search for anything the candidate has posted that may be deemed inappropriate.
On the third level, the firm reaches out to a list of references provided by the candidate, as well as “off-list” references that would have knowledge of the candidate’s character and job performance at other institutions.
Wilde said one problem in executive searches, specifically in which confidentiality is part of the firm’s contract, is reusing information gathered from a previous search without updated information. Pimentel said this was not the case with his firm.
“When we do each search, we approach it with a fresh set of eyes. Information about candidates changes so regularly,” Pimentel said. “The reality is that the information we may have about an individual provides the basis for understanding. But then everything after that has to be verified and updated.”
Pimentel also said the OU search, in particular, has yielded a diverse pool of applicants and candidates.
“With the help of a search firm, you find a diversity of candidates that you wouldn’t normally see, and I do mean diversity not only in a traditional sense but also in terms of profession and so forth,” Pimentel said. “So you get a broader spectrum of candidates, and you get candidates who wouldn’t have shown up on your radar any other way.”
Rainbolt said that of all the help Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates has given to the search committee, recruitment of high-quality candidates has been the most valuable.
“They (in the search firm) have become acquainted with, over the years, many sitting presidents and provosts throughout the country. They help bring us together with talent they’ve seen in their searches,” Rainbolt said. “I would say they’ve absolutely been a crucial help in our search undertaking.”
About Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates
Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates is a woman-and minority-owned company with more than 50 employees and with two main offices in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Fully one third of all searches conducted by Storbeck are for the top leadership positions — president, chancellor, head or CEO. Collectively, our consultants have more than a hundred years of experience in the executive search industry and have conducted approximately 2,000 executive-level searches for higher education and nonprofit clients over the last two decades. Partner Anne Coyle conducts searches for leadership, academic and managerial positions for a wide variety of educational institutions, including private and public colleges and universities and independent schools. Anne has more than 25 years of experience in executive search, higher education, business and government. Prior to joining Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, she spent several years with an international search firm, where she focused on educational searches. Prior to that, she was the director of admissions at the Yale School of Management.