June 30, 2017 – Wheless Partners, an executive recruitment firm in Birmingham, AL, has been selected to help find the next president for Fort Hays State University (FHSU), one of six state universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. The search is being led by Michael J.R. Wheless, senior partner and division president responsible for engaging boards of directors, CEOs and senior management leaders, and Lisa J. Marks, managing director and divisional chief operations officer.
The school’s previous president, Mirta Martin, departed in November amid controversy over her style of leadership. Ms. Martin had been in the job for two years, the shortest tenure for a president in the history of the school. In December, 2016, the Kansas Board of Regents appointed Dr. Andy Tompkins as interim president of FHSU.
Wheless Partners is charged with finding a president who can provide “innovative and dynamic leadership,” said the regents in a statement announcing the position.
FHSU “seeks an entrepreneurial, politically astute, and innovative president who has knowledge of national higher education issues,” the regents said. “This individual must bring a strong vision for the university’s future, along with a strategic, thoughtful understanding of how to advance FHSU in conjunction with the Kansas Board of Regents Foresight 2020 strategic plan and the university’s goals, mission, and strategic plan. The university community expects a staunch advocate, a stable presence, and an inspirational, congenial leader.”
In April, the Kansas Board of Regents appointed 20 people, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and the wider Hays community, to the school’s search committee. The group is led by Jeffrey D. Peier, the chair of the FHSU Foundation Board of Trustees. He is also a managing member of Klenda Austerman, a law firm. The committee is charged with identifying three to five candidates.
A Forward-Thinking School
Wheless Partners was expected to be on campus this spring to meet with the school’s community and gather information about the role.
Applications are due in September. Candidates will be interviewed by the school’s search committee and the Kansas Board of Regents. The new president is expected to take over in the early part of 2018.
Recruitment of Academia Presidents Rising
Reduced state funding, rising tuition costs, soaring student debt and decreased federal research funding have all contributed to a dramatic rise in the role search firms are playing in the recruitment of university presidents and chancellors.
FHSU, which was founded in 1902, is described by the regents as “the leading forward-thinking, entrepreneurial university of the Midwest.” Its student population numbers more than 17,000, including 5,300 on the main campus, 3,500 in a China partnership program and close to 8,500 in its virtual college.
Faculty and staff, meanwhile, total 544. The school offers degree and certificate programs at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels, as well as doctorate of nursing practice. FHSU has 31 academic departments within five colleges, including the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; W.R. and Yvonne Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship; College of Education; College of Health and Behavioral Sciences; Peter Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics; and in the Graduate School.
An Array of Clients
Wheless Partners, started in 1986, conducts management, executive and board searches across all industries and functions. It also handles succession planning, talent mapping, interim executive solutions, among other services. The firm has worked with Fortune 500 companies, mid-size operations, leading public and private institutions, investment portfolio companies, not-for-profit foundations and start-ups.
Mr. Wheless, an advocate of a team approach to consulting, has worked for an array of clients, including Microsoft, National Australia Bank, CSG International, Ralph Lauren, Bank of Tokyo, Duke University, Sysco Foods Corporation, Halliburton, University of Texas System, United Parcel Services (UPS), the Gallup Organization, Inc., Murphy Oil, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Lowe Enterprises/ Destination Hotels and Resorts, ITT Corporation, the Texas Medical Center Corporation and Home Depot.
Ms. Marks, a former CEO for an international non-profit, focuses on searches related to advancement and fundraising, foundations and non-profits. She is also involved in executive searches in the higher education, healthcare, and energy sectors – as well as board director succession planning.
“Given the numerous challenges higher education faces today, leadership for public colleges and universities has never been more imperative,” said search firm chief executive Mike Wheless. “Yet leadership development and succession planning in public higher education is lacking. Leadership development programs do not typically seek to assess, develop and improve leadership behaviors from the perspective of presidents or chancellors who have successfully performed this role in a systematic manner.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Chase Barbe, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media