Trustees ponder future leadership of Duke

✔✔✔✔ FC here.

Since the late February trustee meeting, at least four members of the board have been actively engaged in discussions about the future leadership of Duke.

A reliable source tells us that, to a degree, these discussions have been spawned by the forced retirement of Chair Dan Blue Law '73, who runs into term limits on June 30th.

But the discussions go beyond. They ask "mechanical" questions about President Richard Brodhead. That is, without imposing any judgment on his tenure, these Trustees are wondering if it is not prudent to have a preliminary search. The four Trustees feel strongly that there is no candidate on campus.

The focus is on Brodhead's age -- he was born April 17, 1947 -- and two factors that FC has previously reported:

-- the President has given indications that he is considering a return to teaching to cap his career. Not a decision, but indications. Presumably he would want to make this move, as former President Nan Keohane did, with some "good years" left.

-- the University is heading toward a giant development campaign, and continuity of leadership is mandatory. The campaign will probably not start for a year, most likely will last five to seven years. So the question is, what does Dick Brodhead want to be doing when he enters his 70's?

✔The discussions have also reached Peter the Provost. At many schools, this post is filled by someone on the way up, and the provost is only in office five years or so before going on to a presidency. Indeed, when Duke started to look around for a successor to Keohane, it considered provosts at the "upper Ivies," Harvard, Yale, Princeton, only to find the best had just been captured.

Already the longest serving Provost in Duke's history -- Peter the Provost started in 1999 -- one trustee noted that Peter became a fierce advocate of bringing in new blood to the faculty despite the financial meltdown. So why should his own office stagnate?

The names of Dr. Victor Dzau, medical chancellor, and executive vice president Tallman Trask also came up -- only in the context of making sure that all of Duke's top leadership doesn't change at once. There was little substantive talk of their tenure, although one Trustee noted with agreement of the others that Dzau has done an incredible job with Duke's crown jewel, and Trask has been excellent in steering through the financial meltdown.

We believe Dzau is into his 60's. He arrived at Duke at precisely the same time as Brodhead -- a lot of top level turnover at once. (Brodhead met with Dzau and signed off on his appointment even before he became President.)

✔The expectation is that Rick Wagoner (G. Richard Wagoner '75 if you ever try to look him up) will be elected chair of the board at its Commencement meeting. Wagoner has been vice chair, and his arrival in the top job -- "his if he wants it" -- is eagerly anticipated.

It's not clear if he does want the post.

Wagoner has taken a very low profile since being canned as chair of General Motors in March, 2009, although within the past few months he has become a director of the Washington Post Company. Loyal Readers may recall that during the economic meltdown, the federal government rescued GM, and the White House pushed Wagoner into retirement.

Unlike Blue, who has a three member law firm, Wagoner has built his career leading a complex organization. Unlike Blue, a strong presence around Raleigh, Wagoner has operated internationally and his Rolodex cannot be beat. Unlike Blue, a lawyer, Wagoner's background is in finance, at a time when the university is still shaky.

The downside: GM continued to fall apart under Wagoner's leadership, and at the end you could buy a share of GM for the same price as it was 55 years earlier. Wagoner was also criticized for being very hesitant to fire high level executives whose performance was sub par.

Wagoner has only two years before he, like Blue, is forced into term limits. So one concern is who will become vice chair this June.

If a presidential search is necessary, the new vice chair would probably -- but not necessarily -- head it, just like Robert King Steel '73 did when Keohane retired and Brodhead was discovered.

On the vice chair, the four trustees agree the board should take a lead in deciding its officers, rather than having the in-house nominee promoted by the Brodhead Administration accepted.

Have a good day!