COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri System's 23rd president is former Columbian Timothy Wolfe.
"Today is a very, very special homecoming for me," Wolfe said Tuesday morning shortly after he was introduced at MU's Reynolds Alumni Center.
Wolfe, 53, is an MU School of Business and Rock Bridge High School graduate; he spent 20 years as an executive at IBM and most recently served as president of Novell Americas, a software company in Waltham, Mass.
"Just like in college, I expect to have to pull a few all-nighters, but I'm up to this challenge," Wolfe told the gathering, which included his wife, Molly, and twin 16-year-olds, Madison and Tyler.
Steve Owens, who has served as interim system president since Gary Forsee resigned last January, said the two months between now and Wolfe's February start date will give him the opportunity to better understand the position and its responsibilities and demands.
Owens said part of the reason Wolfe's start date is Feb. 15 is so that Owens can lead the UM System Board of Curators through votes on tuition and fee increases at their meeting in Kansas City on Feb. 3.
Wolfe, who was approached about the position by board Chairman Warren Erdman in early August, said former President Forsee was an important factor in his decision to interview for the president's position.
"We (he and Forsee) both concluded that we had such a great experience when we were on campus, and if we can offer more students that same experience that we had, then they potentially could have similar success," Wolfe said. "So it was really a conversation about how do we get more students to have the same opportunities we had."
In a news release from the UM System, Forsee said Wolfe understands the role of higher education and the unique role each system campus plays in the state.
After the press conference, Wolfe said he doesn't yet have particular goals for when he takes the president's position in February. Instead, he'd like his visits to the system campuses and conversations with students, alumni and donors to dictate what topics he'll focus on going into his term as president.
In earlier remarks, Wolfe lauded the UM System's reach in health care, research and education to citizens across Missouri.
"The interesting thing is these amazing results achieved across the university system are even more meaningful because of the economic environment that we're in as well as the 10-year slide in state funding," he said.
Later, Wolfe said the university needs to work with business and political leaders to come up with an economic development agenda.
Referring to the UM System's mission, he said, "The university system needs to facilitate the discussion of what we want to look like in the future and how we're going to get there. We need to chart our own course and not have somebody else chart that course for us."
Wolfe said the system "needs to have a vision that illuminates the critical importance of higher education in our economy, our health and our future generations. If we do our job, our vision and strategies will be so compelling that we attract the support and financial resources from the state, businesses, alumni and donors to fund our growth and pay our people competitive wages and be recognized as Missouri's greatest asset."
Erdman said that presidents begin with an initial term of three years but that he hopes Wolfe will serve for many more. Erdman, who has overseen the search for a new president, ends his yearlong term as chairman at the end of this month; he will be succeeded by curator David Bradley, who has been vice chairman this year.
Wolfe's base salary will be $450,000 plus the opportunity to earn an additional $100,000 in performance bonuses, Erdman said, but the measures for what performance would merit a bonus have yet to be determined.
Wolfe said that he's worked for resource constrained businesses for much of his 30-year career and that because of the experience he understands the balance between cutting costs for efficiency and finding new resources to drive up revenues. He sees this as a conversation essential to understanding the system's future, and he plans to have it with Gov. Jay Nixon, legislators and anyone with a stake in the campuses.
Wolfe was planning to travel to Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla on Tuesday afternoon and the universities of Missouri at St. Louis and Kansas City on Wednesday. Erdman said a group including himself, Owens, board secretary Cindy Harmon and UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead will travel together in the system's van.
"Coming back home to Missouri has long been a dream for our family," Wolfe said.
"My wife, Molly, who's here today, grew up in Kansas City, and in the interest of full disclosure — she attended a university west of here ... with the initials KU," he said, prompting laughter. He promised she will adopt the the colors of the system's universities.
Wolfe was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and moved to Columbia in fourth grade. In 1975, during his senior year at Rock Bridge, he won a state championship as quarterback of the football team.
Wolfe's parents, Joseph and Judith Wolfe, are teachers: Joseph Wolfe, who retired in 2007, taught at MU in the communications department in the College of Arts and Science; he was known by his peers for his colorful socks and dry wit, and his popularity was such that there is a G. Joseph Wolfe Scholar Award given to graduating seniors specializing in television.
Judith Wolfe teaches at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, Mass. When the family lived in Columbia, she taught third grade in Columbia Public Schools from 1968 to 1972, and she worked in the state's library system from 1974 to 1981.
The announcement Tuesday — by any measure, a well-kept secret — concludes a yearlong confidential search that began in January when Forsee stepped down to care for his ill wife.
"This one was very thorough, oh my goodness," Erdman said of the search. "Very thorough."
Erdman said curators became personally engaged in the search and that they feel Wolfe embodies all of the president's qualifications identified earlier this year.
Raymond Howze, James Ayello and Hannah Spaar contributed to this report.