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Perhaps the most intense search for a new chief executive in South Florida was the one recently completed at the University of Miami. “We did the search very similar to a corporate search,” says Chuck Cobb, a Miami businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Iceland who chaired UM’s search committee. “We hired an executive search firm, we went out and proactively looked for the top candidates and we kept strict confidentiality.” The search cost upwards of $100,000, and resulted in the recruitment of Donna Shalala, the U.S. secretary of the Health and Human Services Department for the past eight years. On June 1, she succeeds Edward T. Foote II, who is retiring after leading the university for the past 20 years. Not having had to appoint a president in two decades, the board of trustees did intensive preparation before setting out for the task. In April, trustees and senior administrators went on their annual retreat, in Naples, Fla. This time the agenda, as part of the search effort, was specific: What qualities did the university want in its next president? The answers included, of course, a good academic, a good fund-raiser. “Everybody would have similar qualities, but they would rank them differently,” said Miami lawyer and UM trustee Dean Colson, who participated in the search. “But everyone’s No. 1 quality was that they had to be a great leader.” The trustees also had hired consulting firm Grenzeback Glier and Associates to plan the university’s long-term goals. Among the specific goals that came out of that exercise: The University of Miami wants its next president to take it into the Association of American Universities, a select group of 61 research schools in the U.S. and Canada. To that end, the search committee set out to pursue, as Cobb puts it, the “superstars” of university presidencies throughout the country. “They wanted someone that when the name was announced, people would say ‘Wow!’ ” recalls Bill Funk, managing director of executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, which was hired by UM to help search for its new president. The search committee didn’t solicit applications. Instead, its members solicited nominations from faculty, trustees, acquaintances and other university presidents, and then took it upon themselves to follow up on the nominations. The nominations would go to Korn/Ferry, who would send inquiry letters to the nominees, and follow up further with those candidates who said they’d be interested. Further, the committee also contacted some of those “superstars” it had identified with the help of Korn/Ferry, whether they had been nominated or not. Carlos de la Cruz, a Miami businessman who is chairman of UM’s board of trustees, said the committee also was open to candidates within the university. In fact, of the 15 people in the search committee, “none were deans, so that any dean who wanted to pursue candidacy could do so without the embarrassment of having to leave the search committee,” de la Cruz said. The committee won’t disclose who else was considered or nominated in addition to Shalala, as it is considered a major career faux pas for a university president to pursue a job and have it later disclosed that he or she didn’t get it. Conversely, some people the search firm contacted for an initial inquiry simply said they weren’t interested in the job. “It didn’t discourage me, considering Harvard, Princeton and Brown universities were all having presidential searches at the same time,” Cobb said. “We were talking to some of the same people.” Still, Funk says, “we had as good a pool as I’ve seen in 20 years of doing this kind of search.” By late summer, the committee had begun to coalesce around four or five people who were willing to pursue more conversations. For its part, members of the search committee had divided the work of reading every speech, article or report produced by the candidates they were considering. “You would spend hours preparing before a meeting,” recalls Colson. “University presidents are very prolific. It’s a lot of work, but everybody did it.” Cobb and Funk were the first to meet Shalala personally, traveling to Georgetown in late summer to meet with her at the Four Seasons Hotel. In that initial meeting, Shalala cleared her first Wow! test. “She was so energetic, so articulate, so bright, and could address those issues that affect universities that want to grow with such clarity,” Funk recalls. “Chuck [Cobb] and I spent a good 2 1/2 hours with her. She left the room, we closed the door, Chuck and I looked at each other and said ‘Wow! What a fantastic woman!’ “ Cobb says he saw something else that suggested to him Shalala and UM might be a good match. “Every position she [previously] took had to be complicated,” he says. “A place like UM has complicated economics, a diverse student body, a complicated medical program that takes care of indigent people, a complicated football program, complicated dynamics everywhere, and that’s what turns her on.” But Cobb says the committee had one concern. Coming from the Clinton administration, would Shalala be able to get along with members of both parties? The university, after all, receives millions in government-funded research grants. “In the case of Ryder or Office Depot, they have to make sure their CEO is going to be effective with their customers,” Cobb says. “In our case, one of our customers is government.” To allay those concerns, they sought opinions from GOP members, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The governor gave Shalala a thumbs up, Funk says, and then went further. His brother, then-President-elect George W. Bush, who was then still on the campaign trail, was on hand at the moment the call came in to the governor. So the governor also ran the nomination by his brother, who seconded the endorsement. Shalala accepted the offer, and lawyers for both sides began negotiating the final agreement. But no one in the committee or in Korn/Ferry knew Shalala on a more personal level, and during negotiations between the lawyers, the committee felt uncomfortable without the benefit of that insight. “It’s quite common in the corporate world that there’s somebody in the company who knows the new CEO well and can be a good intermediary,” Cobb says. So the search committee tapped Mary Doyle, a former UM law school dean and a longtime friend of Shalala’s, to serve as a go-between. “She had a much better rapport with Donna than any of us, so when we needed to check something out or emphasize a point or get her feedback, Mary Doyle was the perfect person to call,” Cobb says. “She knew the university well, she knew us well and she knew Donna well.” Doyle says she spent time talking to Shalala about the university, about its strengths and about its future. Shalala was attracted the most by the diversity of the community and the potential of the university. But Doyle won’t disclose any second thoughts Shalala may have had during final negotiations. If there were any, none ended up throwing off a match about which all felt really good. “It took a long time, but it clicked,” Doyle says.

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