Monday, April 04, 2005

Fumbling the CEO Search

Last month the California stem cell agency found itself in something of a debacle concerning the search for its permanent president.

The subject comes up again this week – and again on a tight schedule, which seemed to play a role in generating frustration and complaints from Oversight Committee board members. The conduct of the search firm, Spencer Stuart, also came under fire. Chairman Robert Klein promised to hold a “very significant discussion” with the firm.

The problems arose when the search subcommittee held a meeting to discuss criteria for the position, which is expected to pay about $400,000 annually. Although a quorum was not present, the group made suggestions that were to be forwarded to the full Oversight Committee the next day.

But when the time came to discuss the recommendations, none of them had been included in the material provided to the full board by Spencer Stuart, giving board members an unpleasant surprise.

Klein initially pushed to keep the selection process moving forward, which some board members favored. But he finally agreed to take the whole matter through the subcommittee process again, according to a transcript of the meeting.

That was after several Oversight Committee members including Phyllis Preciado, a Fresno, Ca, physician, and Joan Samuelson, president of the Parkinson's Action Network, expressed displeasure with how the matter was being handled.

“I would much rather do this in a deliberate way that allows the entire committee to be able to weigh in on the specifics of the job description and the other details,” said Samuelson.

“This is an enormously important decision. And it's not only that the wrong document is here, but there wasn't any time for anybody to review it. We got tens of pages."

Francisco J. Prieto, a Sacramento, Ca., physician, said, “I think we have to appreciate that, as a public enterprise, we are sometimes going to have to sacrifice efficiency for openness."

David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, said he was surprised by the absence of the search firm from the Oversight Committee meeting.

“They should understand the various concerns around the table.... If they were running a search for me, they would have been here.”

At one point, the discussion degenerated into talk about the logistics of running more teleconferencing sites so Oversight Committee members could more easily weigh in remotely at subcommittee meetings.

“Isn't there a simpler way to do this?” asked Committee member Sherry Lansing, a Hollywood entertainment executive, concerning the subcommittee's suggestions.

It is not clear exactly what is on the table for this week. The presidential search subcommittee has only one item on its agenda for Wednesday, a closed door executive session. The next day the Oversight Committee is scheduled to take up a status report from the subcommittee and criteria for selection. It has also scheduled an executive session on the presidential search.

The status report of the presidential search subcommittee was not available online at the time that this item was posted on the Web, two days before the Oversight Committee meeting.

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