Fourth University of Iowa presidential candidate: Bruce Harreld

Candidate is managing principal at Colorado-based Executing Strategy, LLC

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IOWA CITY — The identity of the fourth and final candidate for the University of Iowa presidency was made public Monday, and he’s another white male — like all the other finalists.

J. Bruce Harreld, who has a largely business background including service as president or vice president for the likes of Kraft General Foods, Boston Market Company, and IBM, will visit the UI campus Tuesday.

Like the candidates named before him — Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein, and Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz — Harreld will spend his day on campus meeting with faculty, staff, and students before participating in a public forum.

Despite the lack of gender and racial diversity among the four top prospects, at least one member of the presidential search committee said she and her colleagues made that a top priority.

“There was diversity in the larger pool, and I will tell you that it was a constant and important issue that we discussed at every meeting,” said Sarah Fisher Gardial, dean of the Henry B. Tippie College of Business and a faculty representative on the 21-member search committee.

That committee, formed in February to help recruit and review candidates to replace former UI President Sally Mason, included 10 women and several minorities, and Gardial said she personally made phone calls to potential female candidates she hoped would apply.

“At the end of the day, we couldn’t get the finalist pool we would have all liked,” she said. “I think everyone would have been happier with more diversity.”

Although Harreld is similar in race and gender to the other finalists, the similarities largely end there. He stands out for having no academic administrative experience. His involvement in academia, rather, includes service as an adjunct lecturer at Harvard Business School from 2008 to 2014 and as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University in 1993 and 1994, according to his curriculum vitae.

At Harvard Business School, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration in 1975, Harreld served a dual appointment to the entrepreneurial and strategy units. Before that, from 1995 to 2008, he served as senior vice president for New York-based IBM, working with the CEO to “chart the organization’s transformation from near bankruptcy.”

Among his accomplishments there, Harreld boasts leading a business transformation team “that streamlined operations and reintegrated the global organization” and creating the firm’s “emerging business organization” that produced more than $15 billion in new, profitable revenue across 20 new businesses.

While at IBM, the corporation faced controversy about moving U.S. jobs oversees, and Harreld in 2004 was quoted by The Provide Journal as saying, “What’s offshore and what’s onshore when you’re a global company?”

He was president and member of the board for Boston Market Company in Golden, Colo., from 1993 to 1995, working with five partners to grow the organization from 20 stores in the Boston area to more than 1,100 stores nationally, according to his CV.

In 1995, Harreld was listed as a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him and other corporate leaders of insider trading and conflict of interest. That initial lawsuit was dismissed, but plaintiffs persisted and the case eventually settled.

From 1983 to 1993, Harreld was senior vice president and division president of Kraft General Foods in Northfield, Ill., leading the $2 billion “frozen foods unit,” which included Tombstone Pizza, DiGiorno, Budget Gourmet, and Lenders Bagels.

According to the CV provided by the Board of Regents, Harreld lists himself as managing principal for a firm called Executing Strategy LLC, out of Avon, Colo., advising public, private, and military organizations on “leadership, organic growth, and strategic renewal.”

But no business with that name is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office in Colorado, and representatives with an Avon-area chamber of commerce said they have no knowledge of the business. An Executing Strategy LLC was registered with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2009 under the signatory James Bruce Harreld, but it was dissolved earlier this year.

Harreld, according to public records, on Feb. 6, 2013, filed three mandatory annual reports for the business for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. But no reports have been filed since, and the secretary of the commonwealth on June 30 took action to dissolve the business, which listed its services provided as consulting, strategy, implementation, marketing, and turnaround advice.

Harreld’s LinkedIn profile currently lists him as a corporate adviser in the Greater Denver Area and working for General Motors from 2015 to present — although the CV provided by the Board of Regents doesn’t include work with General Motors.

In that online profile, Harreld cites his “vast experience in turnarounds, building organic growth within established organizations, culture change, and translating strategic ideas into organizational action.”

Paul Marshall, a retired Harvard Business professor who taught with Harreld, said it was that experience in turning around businesses that made him a valuable colleague.

“I had a course I taught on turnaround management,” Marshall said. “And he did that with IBM and Boston Chicken.”

Although Harreld doesn’t have experience in academic administration, Marshall said, he thinks “he’d probably be very good at that.” “That would be a new experience for him,” he said.

Marshall said a person with business management skills could be valuable to a university, in that many have “outrageously high costs” with pressure to cut those expenses as state funding declines and rising tuition becomes a growing concern.

“They have to figure out how to be more efficient in doing what they do,” Marshall said. “Turnaround is a big issue, but it creates friction among what is your major resource — the faculty.”

Some members of the UI faculty on Monday expressed concern with Harreld’s candidacy, citing differences between him and the other more academically-reared prospects.

“I don’t understand why someone from his background would be interested in taking on the job leading the University of Iowa,” said Bob McMurray, UI psychology professor. “I’m curious as to why he wants to do this, and why the Board of Regents wants to do something like this.”

“It makes me wonder if there isn’t another agenda here,” he said.

McMurray said questions surrounding Harreld’s CV fall short of the transparency expectations UI has for its president.

“I think the faculty have some real concerns to the extent that they value the academic culture,” he said. “I think the faculty are going to ask him some tough questions.”

UI law professor Nicholas Johnson said he would welcome someone with Harreld’s background as a consultant for the university administration.

“I think that we would benefit from having that kind of input into the decision-making process,” he said. “But I kind of panic at the prospect of having someone with that limited orientation — or what superficially appears to be that limited orientation — taking over responsibilities for the undergraduate education and professional schools and the hospitals and the athletics program.”

But, despite those concerns, Dean Gardial said the search committee considered several non-traditional, non-academic applicants and the group achieved “un-coerced consensus around the four candidates that should come to this campus.”

“I think there are some conspiracy theories around this, and around the role the board played that are not fair to the board,” Gardial said. “They’re not fair to the board, and they’re not fair to the search committee.”

She didn’t know whether Harreld was recruited to apply for the UI presidency or did so on his own. And, she said, most of the finalists submitted application materials at the last minute — out of concerns for their privacy.

“If he did get recruited, that’s not unusual,” Gardial said. “That’s not a black mark. That was our job — to go out and find people who we thought would be potentially interested.”

All non-traditional candidates considered for the job also had some footing in academia, Gardial said. But, she said, having a business background could be a benefit in managing the complex “village” that surrounds the educational piece of the institution.

“At the end of the day, you have a provost, but someone has to run and manage the budget, the recruiting, and the organizational structure of a much larger entity,” she said.

Gardial said she never had heard of Harreld before his name made the applicant list, but he “brings us a very interesting skill set that crosses the boundary between industry and higher education, and I think he deserves our look.”

She said faculty buy-in and support for Iowa’s next president are “critical” and “extremely important.”

“I would hope that the faculty will be open-minded and listen to all four of our candidates in terms of what they would bring to this campus and not have any preconceptions,” she said.

Although some have complained about the speed of the search, Gardial said, she believes the process has been fair and inclusive.

“The committee worked very hard to bring a strong set of finalists to campus, and I think we did exactly what we were asked to do,” she said.

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