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Search for new NWC president under way

Search committee appointed, search firm hired

After months of preparation, the search for a new president at Northwest College began last week with the appointment of a presidential search committee.

The board also has hired Gold Hill Associates, a firm that specializes in helping with searches for community college presidents.

Appointed to the committee were: all seven NWC board members (currently Mark Westerhold, John Housel and Marty Coe of Cody; Carolyn Danko, Gloria Hedderman and Rick LaPlante of Powell; and Jim Sessions of Meeteetse), Gerry Giraud, vice president for academic services; Mark Kitchen, vice president for public relations; Bob Becker, transfer program faculty; Anthony Polvere, career program faculty; Dee Havig, professional staff; Holly Berryman, classified staff; Bryan Lee, NWC Foundation board; Shawn Warner, NWC Alumni board; Jill Anderson, human resources director (ex-officio); Shelby Wetzel, NWC Foundation executive director (ex-officio) and a student representative yet to be identified.

The inclusion of all seven members of the NWC Board of Trustees reflects the board’s desire to have a key role in choosing the next leader for the college. Several board members previously expressed dissatisfaction with the process last time, in 2007-08, in which only a few board members served on the search committee. By the time the entire board became involved, the field of candidates had been narrowed down to three.

The composition of the committee will change somewhat in December, when at least three new trustees take their seats on the board. Four seats — those held now by Westerhold, Coe, Hedderman and Sessions — are up for election in November. Coe, Hedderman and Sessions did not file for re-election.

The board will meet a week earlier than usual in December, on Dec. 3, to give new board members two weeks to review all applications for the president’s position before they meet with other committee members to narrow down the list to several finalists.

The NWC board in late June agreed to hire Gold Hill Associates, citing the firm’s satisfaction guarantee and its assistance with the search for a president for Casper College, ending with the hiring of Walter Nolte in 2004.

“That was very successful,” Hedderman said.

Gold Hill’s fee is $35,000 plus travel costs, and the firm provides a money-back guarantee. Gold Hill does not expect payment until a president is hired and the board is satisfied with that hire, Anderson told the board during a special meeting on June 26.

“They screen applications, but don’t conceal them,” so the committee is able to review all applications if desired, Anderson said.

Danko said she likes the idea that Gold Hill winnows out the weakest candidates.

Another firm, the American Association of College Trustees, was rejected. ACCT helped with the college’s last search, which began in 2007; Gold Hill submitted a proposal then, too.

“We need to think differently (instead of) doing the same thing over and over,” Hedderman said.

A few questioned the need for a company to help with the search, saying the college could save money by advertising and managing the search independently.

“My concern,” Anderson replied, “is if we’re just advertising, we may fail the search. We can’t afford to fail the search.”

“The money you save picking the wrong one could be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” added LaPlante.

“I’d like us to look like a class act,” Danko said.

The board voted unanimously to hire Gold Hill. The company’s president, Preston Pulliams, will meet with the search committee for the first time on Wednesday.

Last week’s appointment of committee members followed four previous board discussions about the process needed to choose a president who will have the skills that will help the college move forward and overcome past difficulties.

LaPlante led much of that discussion. LaPlante, a former Microsoft executive who hired people for many leadership positions at that company, said the key to a successful search is aiming to find someone with the specific skills the college needs.

Using a list of 39 core competencies compiled by Microsoft specifically for hiring education leaders, the board chose six core competencies, or skills, it believes are the most important for the new president to excel in. That list was reviewed and refined through consultation with the four NWC constituency groups: faculty, professional, administration and students.

The list of core competencies consists of:

• Integrity and trust

• Motivating others

• Decision quality and problem solving

• Strategic agility and innovative management

• Organizational agility

• Managerial courage

“The skills for the job are like the prerequisite,” LaPlante said during a telephone interview last week. “It’s those critical skills, critical competencies, that can set apart success or failure.”

That means not hiring someone who stands out in other areas, but who does not possess the specific skills identified as critical for leading the college, he said.

“Sometimes you find a rock star in something else,” leading to a spontaneous reaction: “Wow, they’re phenomenal; we should hire them,” LaPlante said. “I call it the glitter effect. It happens a lot, particularly with really high-end folk. They’re all really good. But if they’re not (ranked) a four out of four in these six things, they’re not going to be considered.”

Identifying the six core competencies took several meetings, and “getting clear on that was a lot of work” LaPlante said. “But I think we’re there. I am very happy that we took the time.”

NWC President Paul Prestwich resigned in March, effective in June. The board plans to pick finalists in December.

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