UF selects presidential search firm used by USF, FSU

After wrapping up at USF, Alberto Pimentel, managing partner of SP&A Executive, will be running the search at UF, too.
In this aerial view, Century Tower rises from the center of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. The university will announce a search committee by next week.
In this aerial view, Century Tower rises from the center of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. The university will announce a search committee by next week. [ University of Florida ]
Published March 18, 2022|Updated March 18, 2022

The California-based search firm that recently placed presidents at Florida State University and the University of Central Florida and was involved in the presidential search at the University of South Florida has picked up a new client: the University of Florida.

The UF Board of Trustees voted during a meeting Friday to select SP&A Executive Search from among four search firms interviewed.

UF’s presidential search will be run by Alberto Pimentel, managing partner of the firm, who had run the searches at the other schools. He promised he would work exclusively on UF’s presidential search during the duration of the contract.

Related: USF launches national search for a new president

SP&A charged USF $160,000 plus fees to help assemble a pool of 18 candidates. Interim president Rhea Law, who was appointed by the school’s Board chairman, and Jeffrey Talley, who once led the U.S. Army Reserve, were named as two candidates moving forward.

Some USF faculty expressed disappointment over the quality of the pool, with some questioning whether some candidates had withheld applying in hopes of instead getting the soon-to-be open president job at UF. USF is expected to select its president by Tuesday, subject to confirmation by the Board of Governors.

Althea Johnson, a spokesperson for USF, said in an email that SP&A Executive Search, which had also promised to work exclusively with USF, continues to work with USF, “as a final candidate has not been selected yet.”

Related: Here’s what happens next in USF’s search for a new president

At FSU, where SP&A had a $90,000 plus fees contract, according to The Tallahassee Democrat, education commissioner Richard Corcoran emerged on a short list of nine of a pool of 22 candidates. FSU ultimately chose Richard McCullough, former vice provost for research at Harvard University, as president.

Related: Richard Corcoran’s path to FSU presidency hits a snag

SP&A advertises itself as “a boutique woman-and minority-owned executive search firm” that has been involved in executive searches around the country, including at Penn State. Its website states it is also involved in searches for a vice president of research at FSU and a regional chancellor for the USF St. Petersburg campus.

The UF board has yet to negotiate a contract with the firm. It will not retain the company until a search committee is named, the university said in a news release.

A proposal to the university stated that the firm usually charges one-third the cost of the president’s first-year compensation, including base salary and additional compensation. UF President Kent Fuchs earned $1.58 million in total compensation in 2020, the third-highest public university president in the country.

But given the firm’s “strong desire to partner with the University of Florida on this important assignment,” the firm wrote it would be willing to negotiate either a flat fee or a capped rate beforehand.

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SP&A Executive stood out to the interviewing committee because of its recent familiarity with Florida, including its public records laws, said Tom Kuntz, a retired bank executive and member of UF’s Board of Trustees. He said the fees asked for by each firm they interviewed were similar.

“It’s an interesting time because there are lots of presidential searches that are ongoing or about to begin across the country,” Kuntz said Friday.

UF’s presidential search will be conducted less openly than other recent searches in the state following a new law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this week that shields information about applicants from public records until they reach the finalist stage. The law took effect immediately.

DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in an email the governor believed the bill would improve the quality of the applicant pool.

“Most qualified candidates for university president are already employed elsewhere, and it stands to reason that they might not want their current employer to be aware that they are considering a new professional opportunity,” she wrote. “Therefore, this reform will enable such candidates to apply for a significant job without fear of retribution from their current employer. Florida’s world-class public university system will therefore have access to a broader pool of potential talent and leadership.”

While many faculty unions have been critics of the bill, saying it is a way to fast track politicians to the job, UF Board chairperson Mori Hosseini assured the Board politics would play no part in the search.

“Not one person political has asked me to be a candidate and not one person political has asked me to be on the committee,” he said.

Hosseini said he would name the search committee by next week.

“We are going wide,” he said. “We’re going after CEOs, we’re going after academia, we’re going after the most successful people in the country who can lead our university to the next level.”

Correction: SP&A is still working with USF on its presidential search. An earlier version of this story had incorrect information.