Wheless Partners Retained by the University of Colorado to Find New Leader

October 11, 2018 – With the new academic year underway, a number of colleges and universities across the country are opening searches that, if all goes to plan, will provide high-profile leaders to take them into a new era of fundraising, digitalization, sports and, increasingly the case, globalization.

The University of Colorado board of regents recently tapped executive recruitment firm Wheless Partners to lead its search for a new president. Bruce D. Benson recently informed the board that he will retire from the role next July. Wheless senior partners Mike “JR” Wheless, Robert E. Witt and Scott Watson will lead the assignment.

The Colorado University board of regents selected Wheless Partners after a competitive process that drew proposals from leading national firms. “Wheless Partners has an excellent track record of success in placing effective, dynamic leaders,” said Sue Sharkey, chair of the Colorado University board of regents. “With Wheless Partners’ deep nationwide network and leading-edge business and search model, Wheless provides coverage across education, government and all industries in order to find a gifted CEO to lead the CU system. We look forward to working with them to find CU’s next great leader.”

The search firm has “client partners in Colorado and around the country, and an impressive track record of successfully conducting president, chancellor, CEO and executive searches in higher education and other industries,” said the university. “Wheless Partners has a strong record of placing candidates who have been successful in higher education, as well as success in attracting a strong pool of diverse candidates.”

Ms. Sharkey said the regents are particularly looking forward to working with Dr. Witt, who previously served as a campus chancellor and system president for the University of Alabama and is recognized as an established leader in the higher education community.

The university will pay the firm a $99,000 flat fee, up to $25,000 in additional fees for expenses such as advertising, and additional money for travel expenses, said Patrick O’Rourke, Colorado University vice president of university counsel and secretary to the board of regents.


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.

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The board has issued a call for nominations for members of the search committee, which is expected to be empaneled this month. The board named regents Heidi Ganahl and Irene Griego as search committee co-chairs.

The University of Colorado is a premier public research university with campuses in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver as well as its Anschutz Medical Campus. With more than 66,000 students (and another 7,000 taking courses for credit) and over 7,200 full-time instructional faculty members, it is the largest institution of higher education in the state of Colorado. With an annual budget of $4.5 billion, the school generates an economic impact of $12.35 billion annually for the state.

Experienced Executive Recruiters

Wheless Partners, founded in 1986, conducts management, executive and board searches across all industries and functions. It also handles succession planning, talent mapping and 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. Wheless Partners has offices in New York, Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver and San Francisco.

Related: Why Universities Have Stepped Up Efforts to Involve Search Firms

Mr. Wheless, who advocates 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 Corp., Halliburton, University of Texas System, United Parcel Services, the Gallup Organization, Murphy Oil, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Lowe Enterprises/ Destination Hotels and Resorts, ITT Corporation, Texas Medical Center Corp. and Home Depot.

Dr. Witt, senior advisor for Wheless Partners’ higher education consulting practice, is a transformational leader in American higher education. In particular, his business, marketing and strategic planning skills have had a dramatic impact on the University of Alabama. A global leader in business education during his 22-year tenure at the University of Texas, Dr. Witt was also responsible for a turnaround as president of UT-Arlington before he was recruited to the University of Alabama in 2003.

Related: Recruitment for Higher Education Leaders Heats Up and Shifts

Mr. Watson brings more than 27 years of executive search experience in serving clients across hospital/health systems, higher education institutions, MCOs, insurance companies, software/technology companies, service and manufacturing organizations, and others. He has placed executives in critical roles across the C-suite and board room and brings a “fit” and ROI perspective to organizations seeking to establish a competitive advantage over the competition by securing top talent.

“Given the numerous challenges higher education faces today, leadership for public colleges and universities has never been more imperative,” said Mr. 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.”

Related: Academic Sector Pumping Big Fees Into Search Firms

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

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