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Search for Ohio State University president cost close to $200,000

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS (AP): Although Ohio State University didn’t look far in selecting its new president, it still took 10 months and spent just short of $200,000 to make the choice.

The cost of rehiring former Ohio State president Gordon Gee included $175,000 to a headhunting company guaranteed a fee no matter who was hired and $19,000 in miscellaneous costs.

The latter figure included travel, lodging and numerous snack trays for trustee meetings, according to university records requested by The Associated Press.

The return of a president to a major college in the United States is extremely rare, higher education experts say.

After a national search that began last fall, the university last month rehired Gee, chancellor of Vanderbilt University and Ohio State president from 1990 to 1997.

Heidrick & Struggles, a Cleveland-based executive headhunting firm, was guaranteed its money regardless of whether the university hired a candidate identified by the firm, according to a Dec. 22 agreement signed by the university.

Bonnie Gwin, the Heidrick & Struggles’ consultant overseeing Ohio State's search, had a long meeting with Gee in Washington, D.C., in late spring where they discussed the job. The company's involvement was instrumental in Gee's decision, he told The Associated Press in an interview.

“She was an independent broker,'' Gee said Thursday. ``She could give me a real sense about the board, about the issues facing the university, about how people were perceiving the institution and how people perceived me coming back.''

Messages were left for Gwin seeking comment.

Ohio State conducted a national search first, then settled on Gee after deciding he fit the profile the committee had created of a successful candidate, said OSU trustee Alex Shumate, head of the search committee and a veteran of finding and hiring Ohio State presidents.

“We just didn't zero in on Gordon Gee,'' Shumate said. ``We conducted a national search. Gordon met and exceeded the profile.''

Shumate wouldn't discuss other candidates or most details of the search and the records obtained by the AP don't reveal much about the committee's inner workings.

One invoice shows that NetJets, a charter airline with flight operations in Columbus, billed the university $14,789 for a flight to Minneapolis and back on June 24. Shumate said he was onboard, along with five other trustees and trustee board secretary David Frantz.

“We took a trip to talk to someone,'' Shumate said.

The use of headhunters to find college presidents is increasing. Universities hired consultants in one of every two recent searches, up from just one in 10 searches before 1984, according to a report by the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education.

Most search companies charge universities one third of a successful candidate's starting salary, meaning Ohio State's expenses were a relative bargain. Gee will earn $775,000 annually, plus $225,000 a year to be paid retroactively after five years.

The $175,000 fee ``is really on the low side,'' said Claire Van Ummerson, vice president for ACE's Center for Effective Leadership.

Shumate said he first talked to Heidrick & Struggles about Gee as a candidate in May. The firm agreed Shumate would make the first call and Shumate arranged a meeting in Columbus May 20 when Gee was in town for a meeting of the Limited Brands board.

Gee turned down Ohio State's original offer in June, then changed his mind after trustee chairman Gil Cloyd called and asked him to reconsider.

The university carried out a cost-efficient and effective national search, Shumate said.

``Good process leads to good substance, and that's what we ended up with here,'' he said.

Records show members of the search committee snacked well while deciding Ohio State's next leader.

A May 29 meeting of the search committee cost the university $477, including a $59.50 cheese tray including gourmet crackers, dried fruit and nuts and assorted cookies, and $98.75 for coffee, water and sodas.

The committee, which held its meetings in private, could be particular. ``NO bagels,'' said the April 16 invoice from Vito's Catering. ``Heavy on diet,'' were the instructions for sodas at several meetings.

On the Net: Ohio State: http://www.osu.edu/index.php; Hedrick & Struggles: http://www.heidrick.com






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