Once again, the University of Missouri System has dipped into the business world for its president, this time coming up with a former hometown boy, Timothy M. Wolfe.
The 53-year-old MU School of Business graduate, who grew up in Columbia, brings to the post a deep background in information technology.
Wolfe, who will assume his official duties Feb. 15, will visit the University of Missouri-Kansas City today.
“I think Kansas City will be very pleased,” said Warren Erdman, the outgoing chairman of the UM Board of Curators who led the search.
In an 11-month search to replace Gary Forsee, a former CEO of Sprint Corp., a pool of at least 100 candidates was distilled to three. Curators made the final vote in their regular meetings Thursday and Friday in St. Louis.
In his comments, Wolfe indicated that Erdman had reached out to him with a phone call. Until then, Wolfe said, he had not thought about pursuing a position as a university president, although both his parents are university professors. Wolfe said he began seeking the position “vigorously” after conversations with Forsee.
The two talked about the great experiences they had attending Missouri colleges and how leading the system would give Wolfe a unique opportunity to “help other young people have a similar experience,” Wolfe said.
“I will work tirelessly to help all our campuses reach their full potential,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
The three-year contract has a $450,000 base annual salary, $50,000 more than that of Forsee, and $100,000 in performance pay. The curators will set the criteria for the bonus in the next 60 days.
“Tim Wolfe comes back to us as a successful graduate with a 30-year career in business,” Erdman said. “He comes back to us now with national and international experience, but with a heart that has always stayed in Missouri. Now he wants to come home and give back to the university that prepared him for his success.”
Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Wolfe’s family moved to Columbia when he was in fourth grade. He attended Rock Bridge High School, where he quarterbacked the football team to the 1975 Class 3A state championship.
“This is a very special homecoming for me and my family,” Wolfe said. His wife, Molly, a Kansas City native, and their 16-year-old twins, daughter Madison and son Tyler, will stay in the Boston area through the school year and visit Missouri often.
Admitting he has much to learn, Wolfe said, “I will depend on the Board of Curators to navigate this tremendous university ecosystem.”
He said his experience in finance, marketing and management, married with his passion for education, will provide the tools he needs for “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Before a packed conference room in the Reynolds Alumni Center, Wolfe spoke of global and economic pressures that will force change and how the university must generate more revenue while delivering quality education and keeping tuitions low.
While their incoming president is the second to come from the business world, university leaders said they don’t see a trend.
“Who you hire has a lot to do with what is needed at the time,” said Leo Morton, the chancellor of UMKC. “I don’t think we need any one helping us redesign any curriculum. What we need is someone helping us getting the rest of the state to appreciate the value of this university, and that is marketing.”
Erdman, who is from Kansas City, said of Wolfe: “If there is one thing I’m really confident about, it is that he understands and respects the uniqueness of each of the system campuses.”
Forsee, the system’s 22nd president, left his post last December to care for his ailing wife. Steve Owens has served as interim president.
Before Erdman introduced Wolfe, he had warm words for Owens, who will go back to serving as the university’s general counsel.
“He deserves our deepest appreciation for his service in what some have said has been one of the most eventful years in our history,” Erdman said.
Wolfe said he will tour the state, visiting campuses and talking with administrators, faculty and students. He said he strongly values the input of students.
“They are our customers, so I want to hear from the students.”
According to a biography released by the university, Wolfe began his career in 1980 at IBM in Missouri, first as a sales representative in Jefferson City then as a manager in Kansas City. From 2000 to 2003, Wolfe served as executive vice president of Covansys Corp., a global consulting and technology services company based in Michigan.
He then moved to Novell Inc., a provider of infrastructure software, where he was responsible for more than 3,000 employees and partner firms in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Wolfe was between positions after Attachmate Corp. took over Novell earlier this year.
Wolfe’s father, Joe, taught communications at MU from 1967-97, and his mother, Judith, is a law professor at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. An MU alumna, she taught in the Columbia public schools from 1968-72.
Brady Deaton, the chancellor of the Columbia campus, said that because Wolfe grew up with professor-parents and benefited from MU himself, “he comes with a unique perspective. He understands the value of the university.”