When It’s Time to Hire a President – Executive Leadership Associates (NCACCT Business Partner)


North Carolina community college trustees have a number of important responsibilities to fulfill.  But GS-115D 20 (1) is very clear in establishing the most important responsibility: the election of the college president.  Searching for a new community college CEO is a responsibility almost every trustee will undertake sometime during his/her tenure, perhaps more than once.  Since Executive Leadership Associates (ELA), a consulting firm that assists trustees in presidential searches, was created in 2018, no less than 27.50 percent (16 of 58) NC community colleges have been or are currently searching for a new leader.

ELA is a partnership of six retired North Carolina community college presidents who are committed to ensuring our internationally recognized community college system continues its proud tradition of excellence, one college at a time.  ELA partners have served a combined 80 years as presidents at seven different community colleges; in addition, we have worked as interims at nine community colleges.  It is safe to say we know the system, which is why, with our decades of combined executive leadership, we have the proven expertise to help guide a board of trustees and the college through their most significant transition. ELA’s job is to ensure Boards of Trustees have all the information and advice they need to make the best decision for their unique colleges and communities.

When a board arrives at the point that it is “Time to Hire a President,” the first decision is how to organize the process: use a search firm or handle the search internally.  Of course, ELA suggests using a search firm.  While there is an expense in hiring a search firm, we think the advantages far outweigh any cost consideration.

A search firm will assist a board through the entire hiring process, which can be both lengthy and time-consuming for trustees.  We encourage trustees to consider a search for a new leader as that rare opportunity to assess where your college is and where you want it to go.  It literally provides the board with a “reset” button for the college.  It is also a time to involve both on-campus and community constituencies, and to provide these stakeholders with some ownership in the process.  That will help ensure a smooth transition for the person trustees select as the next CEO, and it will help satisfy the State Board requirement to involve the community in the search.

A search firm should use input from the faculty, staff, and community to help develop an institutional profile and the qualifications expected in the next college leader.  A search firm will also develop and place advertising in the right places to ensure both an acceptable quality and quantity of applicants. The right search firm not only depends on broad appeal advertising but on former colleagues, contacts in higher education, professional organizations, colleges, universities and finally personal contacts developed through years of experience in the field to help find the right person for a particular community college.

When those applications start coming, boards often begin inquiring about the number who have applied.  Some trustees equate the number of applicants to how well their college is doing.  Lots of applications mean, at least to some, that everybody wants to come to our community college because of some X factor they equate to success.  Actually, there are potential candidates around the country, literally the globe, with their resumes on the computer just waiting to hit the send key when an opening for a community college presidency is announced.  The right search firm is not as concerned as much about the application count as they are the quality of those who are hitting the send key.  The right search firm can sift through all those resumes with cover letters that can run from a couple of pages to several dozen and then do the deep dive reference checks and screenings to get a quality pool for the board.  From that group, a board will ultimately decide on several candidates with whom they wish to talk.

Making logistical arrangements to get those candidates to campus is an important next step, but the key is helping a board focus on asking the right questions and providing insight as to what a candidate said, and just as importantly, did not say.  The right search firm will be with the board from start to finish including keeping the State Board apprised of the timing of the search and those final candidates so the State Board can perform the due diligence required of them as well.

There are a number of good search firms that will seek your business when you are in the market for a new president.  We hope you will consider Executive Leadership Associates when you start reviewing those Request for Proposals (RFP’s) you are required to send out before hiring a search firm.  We believe our combined experience in North Carolina—our six partners have worked at North Carolina community colleges from the classroom to the president’s office a combined 182 years and one of our partners is a graduate of a NC community college—gives our firm an advantage.  We have done the job you are seeking to fill, worked in communities large and small and believe we can help any of our 58 colleges find the right person to lead their college.

But no matter whether you decide to do that important search on your own or hire a search firm we know a Board of Trustees does not want to be involved in a search very often.  But when it does happen, a board should embrace this opportunity to move the college forward, providing even greater opportunities for the reason you serve in the first place:  the students.


Dr. Michael Taylor, a partner in Executive Leadership Associates, is a graduate of Lenoir Community College and served as President of Stanly Community College for 15 years.  Contact ELA at http://www.executiveleaders.net/.


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