TurnkeyZRG Seeks New Commissioner for the Big Ten Conference

The new leader for the oldest division I collegiate sports conference will be taking over the reins at a time of change, with the addition of two new universities to its ranks. “We are confident TurnkeyZRG will present candidates with strategic vision and integrity to best lead the conference, and serve its world-class member institutions,” said Robert Jones, chair of the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors.

January 30, 2023 – The Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors has selected TurnkeyZRG to assist in identifying the next commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. This leader will succeed commissioner Kevin Warren who has accepted the role of president and CEO for the Chicago Bears. “TurnkeyZRG is honored to assist the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors in its search for the seventh commissioner in Big Ten history,” said Len Perna, chairman and CEO of TurnkeyZRG.

“Commissioner Warren did a great job taking the Big Ten Conference to an even higher level than it already was,” Mr. Perna said. “These are very big shoes to fill and TurnkeyZRG is honored and humbled by the opportunity. The Big Ten commissioner is one of the best jobs in all of sports because the Big Ten schools are world class in academics, athletics, and every other measure.”

The Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors said it issued a request for proposal (RFP) to leading search firms and thoroughly reviewed each proposal. Based on the criteria, principles, and benchmarks for the search, TurnkeyZRG was then selected. TurnkeyZRG is charged with immediately beginning an inclusive and national search to gather insights and recommendations for the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors Search Committee. Collectively and collaboratively the council will make a final decision on the candidate selected to be the next commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.

“It is an exciting and transformative time to be at the Big Ten Conference,” said Robert Jones, chair of the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors, and University of Illinois chancellor. “The Big Ten Conference is rich in academic and athletic traditions and positioned for continued success in the future. We are confident TurnkeyZRG will present candidates with strategic vision and integrity to best lead the conference, and serve its world-class member institutions.”

In addition to having valued relationships and credibility with Big Ten Conference member institutions’ stakeholders and constituents, TurnkeyZRG has recently placed the ACC commissioner, Pac-12 commissioner, Big 12 commissioner, NCAA president, the CEO of U.S. Soccer, the CEO of the Professional Tennis Players Association, and the NFL’s No.2 business leader, among other high-profile appointments. TurnkeyZRG is well known for its proprietary approach running inclusive, comprehensive, and secure processes customized for each client.

To respect the privacy of potential candidates and preserve the integrity of the search process, the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors said it will refrain from further public comments concerning the search until the organization makes a formal announcement naming the commissioner.

Founded in 1895, the Big Ten Conference, is considered the oldest Division I sports conference. Based in Rosemont, IL, the conference consists of 14 educational institutions. The broad-based programs of the schools provide over $200 million in direct financial support to more than 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports.

Related: TurnkeyZRG Recruits Athletic Director for West Virginia University

The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. Its member schools include: Indiana University, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, Northwestern University, Purdue University and University of Wisconsin.

In 2019, the Big Ten Conference used Korn Ferry to help recruit Mr. Warren as its commissioner. The search was led by Jed Hughes, Korn Ferry’s vice chairman and global sports sector leader. Mr. Warren was the first African-American commissioner of a Power 5 conference.

TurnkeyZRG Places Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as Next Head of NCAA
TurnkeyZRG has assisted in the recruitment Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as the next president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the major governing body for intercollegiate athletics, effective in March of next year. He succeeds Mark Emmert, who will continue to serve the NCAA as a consultant through June.

“College sports is undergoing significant transformation,” said Len Perna, chairman and CEO of the search firm. “The legal and policy environments are shifting continually, threatening the NCAA’s ability to maintain a consistent experience and a level playing field for student-athletes across the country. The best way to continue to support student-athletes is for the NCAA’s next leader to bring a new set of skills that meet the challenges of the moment. Gov. Baker’s record of bipartisan leadership in both the public and private sectors will be invaluable in the hard but critical work of bringing Democrats and Republicans in Congress together to secure a stable, sustainable future for college athletics.”

In 2020, the Big Ten Conference had Hanold Associates assist in its recruitment of Omar Brown as chief people and culture officer. Hanold Associates said that this “key leadership role will have a profound impact on the cornerstone goals of the Big Ten: empowering athletes, winning the hearts of fans, creating a stable financial position, and building relationships with Big Ten constituents. “As chief people and culture officer, Omar Brown has the capability to help build that sophistication from an HR perspective, while serving as a trusted talent partner to Kevin,” said Jason Hanold. “He was the first candidate introduced and immediately achieved natural alignment with Kevin and the broader Big Ten leadership team.”

In 2022, DHR Global assisted in the recruitment of Anil Gollahalli as chief legal officer and general counsel of the Big Ten Conference. DHR’s managing partner and global sports practice leader Glenn Sugiyama headed the assignment. “When commissioner Kevin Warren first reached out to me to discuss this search and the importance of this placement to the future of the Big Ten, he stressed that he was looking for a rock star general counsel,” said Mr. Sugiyama. “Thanks to the outstanding reputation of the conference and the commissioner, we were able to put together a very strong, highly targeted pool of candidates. As strong as our pool was, Anil was a candidate that stood out for me from day one.”

Serving Sports, Media and Entertainment Organizations

Founded in 1996, TurnkeyZRG is a specialized talent recruitment/executive search firm filling C-level, senior-level and mid-management-level positions throughout sports, media, and entertainment. Over the past 25 years, the firm has filled more than 1,400 positions. TurnkeyZRG helps teams, leagues, stadiums, arenas, theaters, college athletic departments, events, sponsors, agencies, media companies, private equity companies and other clients identify, recruit, and hire the best management talent.

Len Perna, chairman and CEO of TurnkeyZRG, has 30-plus years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry, with senior-level management experience in sales, event marketing and management, sponsorships, venue feasibility and development, facility operations, licensing, and legal affairs. Since founding Turnkey, Mr. Perna has managed over 1,400 executive searches, according to the firm. In 2021, the firm was acquired by ZRG Partners.

Related: TurnkeyZRG Recruits Athletic Director for West Virginia University

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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