WittKieffer Seeking New President for St. John’s University

November 25, 2020 – Executive search firm WittKieffer has been called in by St. John’s University in Queens, NY, to lead its search for a new president. Conrado Gempesaw, the first lay president in the history of St. John’s University, will be retiring in 2021. Dennis M. Barden, senior partner; Greg Duyck, leader of the firm’s advancement practice; and Sarah Miller, consultant, are leading the assignment.

The president is St. John’s chief fundraiser and will play a central role in the university’s planned comprehensive campaign, said WittKieffer. The university has raised about $100 million over the last four fiscal years and is focused on building a capital campaign around its 150-year anniversary. Working in close concert with the board and other volunteer leadership and professional staff, the president will be expected to use the construct of the campaign to state a compelling case for support of the university as a whole and to generate support, particularly for the key initiatives and needs articulated by the school’s new strategic plan, said WittKieffer. The president will then become the institution’s chief advocate, working directly with key prospects and donors to maximize philanthropic investment in St. John’s.


Building on the work of its retiring president, St. John’s University is searching for a leader to galvanize the university community around a vision for its immediate and longer-term future. As such, the successful candidate must possess a comprehensive understanding of the current circumstances of American higher education. WittKieffer said that candidates should “demonstrate significant leadership and managerial experience in a complex setting, ideally in higher education.”

St. John’s next president must be a superior communicator and relationship builder with a leadership style that emphasizes inclusivity, transparency and collaboration. Experience with unionized workforces, especially faculty, is highly desirable, the firm said.

The ideal candidate will possess a record of teaching, scholarship and service commensurate with an appointment to the St. John’s faculty at the rank of professor; candidates with analogous experience in a similarly complex setting will be considered. In addition, the president should have a personal record of contributing substantively to social justice, especially to antiracism, diversity, equity and inclusion. The next president must be an active Catholic and, most importantly, must resonate deeply with the university’s Vincentian mission, values and charisms, including especially its dedication to serving the underrepresented and underprivileged.

Related: WittKieffer Assists Syracuse University in Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Search

Founded in 1870 by the Vincentians and approaching its sesquicentennial anniversary St. John’s University is proud of its diverse student body. The university offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs and is made up of six colleges, including the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; the Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies; St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Peter J. Tobin College of Business, which is also home to the Maurice R. Greenberg School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science; the School of Education; and St. John’s University School of Law.

Seasoned Search Consultants

WittKieffer, based in Oak Brook, IL, assists hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers, medical schools and physician groups; biotech, pharmaceutical, diagnostics and medical device companies; colleges and universities and not-for-profit community service and cultural organizations with senior administrative recruiting assignments. With more than 100 search professionals nationwide, its consultants recruit CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CNOs, physician executives and other leaders.

Mr. Barden, located in Chicago, joined Witt/Kieffer in 1998. A former managing partner of the firm’s education practice, he supports boards and search committees in searches for presidents and chancellors as well as institutional leaders in the recruitment of leadership at the vice presidential and decanal levels. Mr. Barden has played a central role in almost 400 of the firm’s searches across higher education, in the non-profit sector and in healthcare philanthropy.

WittKieffer Seeks Chief Diversity Officer for Colgate University
Colgate University has retained the services of WittKieffer to lead its search for a new chief diversity officer. Charlene Aguilar and Christine Pendleton are spearheading the assignment. The CDO will oversee the continued development of Colgate’s long-term plan for diversity, equity and inclusion, a part of the university’s Third-Century Plan, which identifies a diverse, inclusive and equitable community as foundational for the strength and success of the university, said WittKieffer.

Mr. Duyck, based in Chapel Hill, NC, has more than two decades of executive search and fundraising experience. He joined WittKieffer in 2019 as a principal in the firm’s education practice, building on an education- and philanthropy-focused career. His experience includes serving as a senior associate vice president at Stony Brook University, where he led development efforts for 11 schools and colleges, managing a team of 30 people.

Ms. Miller, based in Exeter, NH, has served within academia as a talent manager, recruiter, human resources expert and admissions professional. Prior to WittKieffer, she led the talent acquisition and talent management functions in the human resources department at Simmons University in Boston.

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

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

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments