Sunday, January 28, 2007

CIRM's Presidential Search: Time to Move with Dispatch

Should the next president of the $6 billion California stem cell agency also conduct research? Should he or she receive a higher or lower salary than the current CEO? Can a suitable successor be on board by June? Can good candidates be found who also can work in the dual leadership environment at CIRM?

Those are some of the questions likely to be addressed as CIRM's presidential search committee convenes on Wednesday with remote sites for the public available from Washington, D.C., to Chico, Ca.

The specific agenda for the meeting is a bit sketchy as of this writing, reminiscent of CIRM meetings of yore in which background material was not available until the day of the meeting, making it difficult for even CIRM Oversight Committee members to comment intelligently much less the public.

On the table are job summary and criteria, the search process and possible competitive bidding for a search firm, the time table and "interim actions." The last item would seem to involve a temporary appointment while the search for a permanent replacement for Zach Hall continues. The 69-year-old Hall has indicated he wants to be off the job no later than June.

The last presidential search in 2005 failed to produce a result until September of that year, three or four months after it had been expected. And that was a man, Zach Hall, already filling the spot on a temporary basis.

The tenuous legal position of CIRM, which then faced the lawsuit now on appeal, was one of the reasons for the apparent difficulty in hiring a president. Another matter of concern among some candidates was whether they could conduct research and whether CIRM would provide facilities. That came up in August 2005 at a meeting of the search subcommittee.

Issues involving the dual leadership at CIRM – a president and chairman with overlapping responsibilities – surfaced early in 2005 with the search subcommittee. It is likely to be a continuing concern although stem cell Chairman Robert Klein has indicated he may give up his post in 2008. But even if he does, another question arises: Who would replace him and can the next president hammer out a new working relationship with the next chair?

California is an expensive place to live, especially the San Francisco Bay Area, where CIRM is headquartered. So compensation becomes especially important for those from out of state. The CIRM salary scale drew protests as excessive in 2005, but it is not likely to be revised downward.

Most involved with CIRM seem to agree that Hall's performance has set a high standard. He laid the difficult groundwork that may have deterred some early candidates. His performance has also clarified for the the Oversight Committee what is needed in a president and creates certain expectations. CIRM is a tiny organization with about 20 employees, substantially fewer than the 29-person Oversight Committee that oversees it. Leadership changes are always difficult for any enterprise. But smaller organizations are more susceptible to disruption than larger ones with substantially more momentum or, for that matter, inertia. CIRM could suffer if too much time passes without a permanent replacement for Zach Hall.

1 comment:

  1. David,

    One ICOC member not on the search committee expressed this concern when I asked about prospects for Zach Hall's replacement:

    "No word, but I hope it's not an ICOC member and it's not some big NAME....we need an extremely competent administrator who can set up transparent accountable systems and interact with state officials and legislators, the public, and the media in an honest, transparent and accountable fashion. Big name
    figureheads are an absolute waste of taxpayer money."

    I agree. CIRM's next president needs to be a good hands-on administrator and he or she ought not plan on running his or her own laboratory while serving as CIRM's chief executive. The presidency is more than a full-time job as it is.

    John M. Simpson
    Stem Cell Project Director
    Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights


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