COLUMBIA — Gary Forsee knows he will have some catching up to do when he assumes his new role as president of the University of Missouri System in a couple months.
“I have to go back to school,” he said, “and I’m prepared to do that.”
Forsee, the former CEO of Sprint Nextel Corp., doesn’t think his corporate background will hold him back, but will instead allow him to showcase skills required of a leader. For example, he said, he knows how to compete for resources, such as the brightest students and the best faculty. He knows the importance of innovation. And he knows how to adapt to change.
It’s this experience that led the UM Board of Curators to name the 57-year-old Forsee as the UM System’s 22nd president on Thursday, said Don Walsworth, president of the board.
“He’s a leader, and that’s what we needed,” Walsworth said. “He will take UM beyond most people’s dreams.”
Forsee, who will take over for interim system President Gordon H. Lamb on Feb. 18, said he won’t remain inactive during the next two months. That time will be devoted to addressing one of his biggest challenges — answering the question: “What’s Gary Forsee about?”
Forsee, who lives in Kansas City, said the burden falls on him to create a rapport with faculty and students.
“Any time there’s change, there’s going to be a lot of time required for trust to be established,” Forsee said. “It’ll be up to me to make sure the trust is established very quickly.”
Forsee said he hopes the skills he’s learned in the corporate world, such as competition and innovation, will translate smoothly into academia — something that many others are hoping as well.
“(Forsee) has tremendous executive experience,” said U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, who said Forsee’s appointment as president is good news for the UM System. “This is a huge, huge organization to run.”
Part of running that organization means handling financial challenges with limited state money, said Guy Bailey, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “We need someone who can do creative business things,” he said. “(Forsee as president) is the kind of leadership we need.”
Forsee, who will assume the presidency during the 2008 legislative session, said state funding for higher education is “absolutely” a priority. He has already spoken with key legislators and the governor, and he said he will be an advocate for the university in the General Assembly.
Forsee, who serves on the Board of Trustees for the University of Missouri-Rolla, is also dedicated to students’ needs, said Lauren Huchingson, former UMR student body president and former member of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. Huchingson and the other student representative on the panel, Nicholas Koechig, interviewed students on all four system campuses to ask what they wanted in a new president.
“The one thing we (students) were looking for was someone who, from a student level, really wanted to get to know the students (and who wouldn’t) just be taking care of the university from a management level,” she said. “He’ll be someone who is involved on a more personal level.”
The naming of Forsee caps a year-long search process for the Board of Curators, which, according to Walsworth, looked at more than 300 resumes submitted for consideration. Walsworth said he called Forsee last December, about a week after former UM President Elson Floyd announced he had accepted an offer to be president of Washington State University. Walsworth and Forsee, who have known each other at least five years, had many conversations afterward about the position, Walsworth said.
In May, U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof confirmed he was one of three finalists, but he was not offered the position by the Board of Curators. The following month, the board offered the job to business executive Terry Sutter, who declined.
In early November, Forsee was interviewed as the lone finalist for the presidency, said Frank Schmidt, chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. The committee interviewed and evaluated each candidate but left the final decision to the Board of Curators.
“When Gary Forsee was interviewed, there was only one candidate,” Schmidt said.
Forsee will receive $400,000 per year, plus up to $100,000 in annual incentive pay, which will be deferred until his completion of a three-year contract. Walsworth said benchmark incentives haven’t been established yet.
Lamb, the interim president since April, will remain through 2008 as executive vice president, a position that includes taking up as-yet-undetermined projects and helping Forsee transition into the presidency.
Missourian reporter Sarah Jackson contributed to this story.