Friday, January 19, 2007

The Search for a New Zach Hall

Preliminary work has already begun to find a replacement for Zach Hall as president of the California stem cell agency, one of the key decisions that must be made this year by CIRM's directors.

The presidential search subcommittee is expected to hold its first meeting on the matter Jan. 31 at CIRM headquarters in San Francisco. The full Oversight Committee is likely to address the issue at its two days of meeting in February.

Hall, 69, plans to leave his post in June, if not earlier.

The Sacramento Bee editorialized today on Hall's tenure and the task facing the Oversight Committee, which seemed to have some difficulty finding a president in 2005, when CIRM was less settled.

The Bee wrote:
"The institute's next president will face many of the challenges Hall confronted: implementing strong ethical standards for stem cell research; overcoming funding restrictions imposed by lawsuits filed against the agency; and hiring the best staff. More art than science will be the challenge of responding to an oversized, 29-member oversight board that is rife with internal conflicts and strong personalities, including the board's often-imperious chairman, Robert Klein II.

We've had some occasional differences with Hall, but he clearly deserves credit for many of the agency's recent successes. He's hired some excellent assistants, implemented a thoughtful strategic plan and tried to move the institute from a highly politicized agency to one that focuses on science and seeks to command respectability. At times, Hall could have done more to solicit opinions and respond to the agency's critics, but given his background -- he came from the insular National Institute of Health -- he's gone further than many would have expected."
The editorial continued:
"The talent search should be easier now that the institute has received a $150 million loan from the state and won its first round of court challenges. Even so, fissures will be likely. Some board members will want to hire a star scientist; others will want a seasoned administrator.

"Whatever the outcome of the debate, the board must make certain qualifications priorities. The next president must be a leader of integrity, with experience in running a public agency and a commitment to transparency. At his best, Hall provided this leadership. He gives the board something to build on."
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