UPDATE: Tim Wolfe, new UM president, has strong Columbia ties

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 | 7:42 p.m. CST; updated 8:09 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Madison Wolfe, left, Molly Wolfe and Tim Wolfe clap along with Truman the Tiger after the announcement of Timothy M. Wolfe's appointment as the University of Missouri System president. Wolfe is the 23rd UM president.

COLUMBIA — Tim Wolfe, a career software and technologies executive with old ties to Columbia, is the University of Missouri System's 23rd president.

"Today is a very, very special homecoming for me," Wolfe said Tuesday morning shortly after he was introduced at MU's Reynolds Alumni Center.

Biography at a glance

  • Age: 53
  • Family: Wife, Molly Wolfe; twin daughter and son, Madison and Tyler, 16; father, Joe Wolfe; mother, Judith Wolfe.
  • Education: 1976 Rock Bridge High School graduate; 1980 MU College of Business graduate; member of Harvard’s Advanced Management Program from 1995 to 2005.
  • Work: Began career at IBM in 1980. He served as a sales representative, manager and vice president and worldwide leader of the Enterprise Resource Planning Unity. In 1999, he was named vice president and general manager of global distribution center. In 2000, he became the executive vice president of Covansys. He joined Novell in 2003 as vice president and general manager of the Southeast region. He became president of Novell Americas in 2007.

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Wolfe, 53, is an MU College of Business and Rock Bridge High School graduate, 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 President Gary Forsee resigned last January, said the two months between now and Wolfe's Feb. 15 start date will give Wolfe 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 its meeting Feb. 3 in Kansas City.

Wolfe, who was approached about the position by board Chairman Warren Erdman in early August, said Forsee was important in his deciding 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, also a businessman, said Wolfe understands the role of higher education and the unique role each system campus plays in the state.

After the news 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 campuses and conversations with students, alumni and donors to dictate what topics he'll focus on going into his presidency.

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."

Career as business leader

Wolfe comes to Missouri with 30 years' experience in software, technology and consulting.

Dan Hebrank, IBM senior state executive for Missouri, said that the company has had an excellent relationship with MU over the years and that the two have partnered for several academic and research programs, some of them related to the company’s delivery center in Columbia.

The UM System posted several endorsements of Wolfe on its website. Ron Hovsepian, former president and CEO of Novell, said Wolfe "played a key leadership role in creating a new strategy for Novell and helped transform the corporation into a more focused and profitable leader in the software industry."

Novell's current managers are not allowed to talk about former employees, said Aimee Johnson, Novell public relations manager. But Tom Francese, executive vice president and worldwide sales manager for Novell, called Wolfe uniquely skilled and experienced and praised Novell's U.S. East region's success under Wolfe's leadership.

In a comment also posted on the UM website, Joan Gabel, dean of the MU Trulaske College of Business, praised Wolfe's successful industry leadership and strong sense of service.

"Through his time on the board of the Trulaske College of Business and his work as an executive-in-residence in our classrooms, we have seen him leverage this combination into insightful and strategic decision-making that will directly benefit the University of Missouri System," Gabel said. 

Curator 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 David Bradley, who has been vice chairman of the board 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 he's worked for resource-constrained businesses for much of his 30-year career and because of that 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 traveled to Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla on Tuesday afternoon and is scheduled to visit the universities of Missouri at St. Louis and Kansas City on Wednesday. Erdman said a group including himself, Wolfe, Owens, board secretary Cindy Harmon and UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead will travel together in the system's van.

Ready to return to Missouri

"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 will live at Providence Point, the official home of the system president, and said his family will stay at their home in Walpole, Mass., and commute to Columbia on some weekends and during the summer.

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. Rich Davies, former head coach of Rock Bridge's football team, said Wolfe even called the offense's plays.

"He was the leader — you want the quarterback to be a person like that," Davies said.

At MU, Wolfe was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

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 a G. Joseph Wolfe Scholar Award is given each year 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.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said he hopes that Wolfe will work on marketing the true value of higher education to the state's economy. Marketing is about showing how two groups interests are aligned, Morton said, and marketing the value of the system's education to students, corporations and legislators would make all four campuses stronger.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said that he hopes to focus with Wolfe on MU’s research strength and that Wolfe's background in international business gives him a good footing to have those discussions.

Deaton and UMSL Chancellor Thomas George said they're happy to see a system president familiar with Missouri, its legislature and the state’s needs so that Wolfe can hit the ground running.

George added that he thinks Wolfe is a quick learner and that he is happy to see the president seeking dialogue among all of the system's constituents.

Mark Mannion, Mizzou Alumni Association St. Louis Chapter president, said that only positives could develop if Wolfe fosters a discussion between alumni.

"Alumni enjoy meeting with university leadership and administrators," Mannion said. "I think we have an extensive network of alumni that we underutilize."

A 'very thorough' search

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, Sherry.

"This one was very thorough, oh my goodness," Erdman said of the search. "Very thorough."

At one point the search had as many as 100 candidates, Erdman said. From there, the search was narrowed to about 40 candidates. Erdman said Wolfe had two formal interviews with the board, one with the presidential search advisory committee at Mizzou Arena last week, one via teleconference with the board and numerous phone conversations with board members.

Erdman said that curators became personally engaged in the search and that they think Wolfe embodies all of the president's qualifications identified earlier this year.

Raymond Howze, Simina Mistreanu, James Ayello and Hannah Spaar contributed to this report.

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