‘A perfect fit:’ USF selects firm to search for its next president

Trustee Mike Griffin said SP&A Executive Search was chosen as the firm to find USF’s next president because it understood USF’s mission in the community and could seek out a diverse array of candidates. ORACLE PHOTO

The USF Board of Trustees (BOT) on Tuesday chose the search firm that will assist in the hunt for USF’s next president, three weeks after President Steven Currall announced his retirement.

Board members approved the recommendation of the Search Firm Advisory Committee to select SP&A Executive Search led by Alberto Pimentel as the consultant in the presidential search. It is a critical step in the process, Trustee Mike Griffin said.

The firm is a boutique women and minority-owned executive search firm with experience conducting searches for Association of American Universities institutions. They are dedicated to working in nonprofit sectors and with higher education institutions.

During the meeting, Griffin said the decision was taken after interviewing five potential candidates. The firm’s commitment to recruiting a diverse group was critical to making the decision, he said.

“I’m thrilled about their commitment to diversity and inclusion, and their commitment to us to bring us a diverse and well qualified list of candidates,” Griffin said. “I just feel like having conversations with the lead partner, [it seems like] he really understands USF, and he is excited to engage with us. This is something that I feel like is a perfect fit.”

Criteria for choosing a search firm also included the firm’s understanding of USF’s mission in the local community and the university’s goal to have a global impact.

Griffin added he has confidence in SP&A Executive Search because of its previous experience with the State University System. The firm assisted FSU and UCF in their presidential searches in previous years.

“So not only do I feel like those went well, but they understand Florida,” Griffin said referring to those searches. “They [the firm] understand our processes and government, Sunshine [law] and other requirements that are unique.”

There are several higher education institutions across the country starting similar searches as USF, according to Griffin, which is why the commitment of the firm to the university was important in the decision. The firm “will commit to us, and only us during this process,” he said in the meeting.

“It’s crowded out there right now, but having a firm that’s committed to us, and that understands our strengths and working within Florida really prevailed,” Griffin said. “And I must say that Alberto really, really gets us.”

Although the firm will assist in the search process, Griffin said he is going to rely more on the Presidential Search Committee that he will lead and whose members were announced during the meeting as well.

The 15-member committee is composed of stakeholders including Tammy Allen, USF distinguished university professor; John Couris, president and CEO at Tampa General Hospital; Julia Cunningham, Student Government president and BOT member; and Debbie Nye Sembler, chair of the USF St. Petersburg Campus Advisory Board, among others.

“I’m very excited about not only getting to this point, but the caliber and the cross section of individuals that we have on the committee,” Griffin said. “I really feel like it’s representative of USF and of the community and I think this was a big step towards moving the process forward.”

Now that a firm has been chosen and the committee has been appointed the next steps include developing a description of the president position and gathering insight from the USF community.

A marketing and communications strategy to update the latest information and receive input from the different stakeholders on the presidential search will be available by the end of September, BOT Chair Will Weatherford said in the meeting.

“We also recognize that successful search must include opportunities for meaningful input from all the members of the USF community and not just the search committee. We are committed to the process that includes input from the deans, Faculty Senate staff, the administration, all the shared government bodies and our community partners in Tampa, St. Pete, [Sarasota-Manatee], of course, our students and our alumni,” Weatherford said.

“There’s a lot of stakeholders here that need to have their voices heard in this process to do it appropriately.”

The search committee doesn’t have a set date for its first meeting, but Griffin said he hopes it can meet within the next month. He also expects to have a timeline for the search process in the coming weeks.

“We are not going to rush the process, but we’re not slowing down either,” Griffin said. “We want to make sure we find the best president USF has ever had. And that’s our expectation at the end of this.”