GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Valley State University Provost Gayle Davis expects the university’s board of trustees will consider both external and internal candidates to fill the position of outgoing President Mark Murray, but says it’s just too early to tell how the search is going to go and how long it will take.
The board held an emergency meeting Friday to authorize the start of a formal search for Murray’s successor. Chair Jessie Dalman must now give the go-ahead for formation of a search committee comprised of GVSU faculty, students and community leaders. The committee will likely hire an executive search firm to begin the process, said Trustee Dorothy Johnson.
Murray will depart the field of education and enter the world of retail as the new president of the family-owned Meijer store chain, replacing former President Larry Zigerelli, who resigned Nov. 30. Murray will join Meijer’s current management leadership of Hank Meijer, co-chairman and CEO, Paul Boyer, vice chairman and co-CEO, and Doug Meijer, co-chairman. He said he expects to make the move by July 1.
“It’s possible that he’ll leave in the next few months, so that will determine when the search committee is established and gets to work,” Davis said. In the event he does leave before July, the board will appoint an interim president, but Davis said no one has been tapped as yet to serve as a substitute. She said searches for presidents typically last at least 10 months, so trying to do it in six months might be a stretch.
Murray, however, indicated he’s fully confident the board can find another A-level president by July.
Both Davis and Johnson said they were pleased for Murray in regard to the opportunity at Meijer but regret that the board can’t keep him at Grand Valley longer. Johnson said the board truly admires Murray’s leadership skills.
Murray said he sensed some disappointment on the part of board members when he announced the news last week.
“But there was also a sense of appreciation for the chance we’ve all had to work together over the years,” he added.
Neither Davis, Johnson nor Murray could specifically pinpoint any potential candidates for the job as of last week, and Davis noted she does not intend to apply for the position. The position of university president is very significant, Johnson said.
“I chaired the search committee last time when Mark was hired. I have no doubt that there will be interest in the position from all over the country because of the stature of Grand Valley.”
Pat Oldt, vice president for planning and equity at the university, served as the staff person for the search committee five years ago when the university was seeking a replacement for former President Arend Lubbers. She said about 60 candidates nationwide applied for the position in 2001. Of those, nine were interviewed and three were recommended to the board as finalists, she said.
Murray told the Business Journal he had not been considering a career change and was taken completely by surprise when Meijer officials approached him with the idea.
“It was not an easy decision in the sense that I love this job and I love this university, but an opportunity only comes along once in a lifetime to do something as interesting and as personally and professionally challenging as this.
“Meijer is a very large organization with a spectacular group of leaders, so it was a leadership position with a successful and accomplished organization. My career over the last 15 years or so has been in leadership in large organizations and helping large organizations stay focused on their mission. There was a certain attraction to the opportunity to do that again in a new field, and bring the skills, expertise and accomplishments I have to a new domain.”
Murray has served on Meijer’s board of directors since Jan. 14, 2005. He said that as a board member, he knows what the company’s policy issues are on a strategic level and the strategic direction the company is taking, but acknowledged that he is not that familiar with the company’s day-to-day operational issues. Meijer operates 171 supercenters in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
“I do know that the company is well positioned; it’s strong, it’s profitable and it’s growing,” he added.
Murray has some 20 years of experience in state government, education and finance. He said he’s confident his leadership skills will transfer readily to the retail sector. Meijer officials appear confident of that, too.
“Mark has tremendous leadership skills,” said Hank Meijer. “He has an understanding of the strategic thinking that a large organization requires. He has an understanding of the necessity of developing a strong team. In our business, nobody can be an expert on every facet of the enterprise. Certainly we’ve seen through Mark’s service on our board of directors that he has an understanding of the fundamentals of enterprise and of our business.
“We see in him someone who has a tremendous sensitivity to and respect for our corporate culture. We felt very comfortable that in choosing Mark, we were identifying the best candidate among other potential prospects in our industry.”
Murray referred to GVSU as a “magnificent institution with a very strong and accomplished team of people dedicated to making our students successful.” He said he sees the same dedication, skill and passion in the management team at Meijer.
Murray became president of GVSU on July 1, 200l. He is the third president in the university’s 46-year history. Prior to joining the university, Murray spent 20 years in varied posts in state government and in education. He served as Michigan’s state treasurer, state budget director, director of the Department of Management and Budget, and as acting director of the Family Independence Agency.
Murray also directed the state’s Merit Scholarship Award program and served as a member of the Board of Education for the city of Detroit, as well as vice president of finance and administration for Michigan State University.
“Mark didn’t come to Grand Valley with an academic background,” Meijer noted. “He’s someone whose career has developed based on the quality of his leadership, not on long experience in the field that he entered. We’re very confident that Mark has a fundamental understanding of the leadership requirements of a large organization and of a growing company. We feel really good about this.”