We should hire Honderich

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By Don McHoull

The National Post reported this week that Ryerson is considering soon-to-be ex-Toronto Star publisher John Honderich as a possible replacement for President Claude Lajeunesse (a story first reported in this paper two weeks ago).

I think Ryerson should hire Honderich, no matter the cost. Honderich reportedly makes more than $600,000 at the Star. If need be, Ryerson should pay him just as much.

Some might balk at breaking the bank to hire a millionaire, but that’s missing the point. A few extra hundred thousand dollars a year would be money well spent compared to the millions that a well-connected guy like Honderich could conceivably steer our way.

Would Honderich even want the job? Would the money really make a difference to him? Maybe not.

But if he didn’t want to take our $600,000, surely some other public-minded executive would.

The university president as corporate CEO is the wave of the future. Ryerson shouldn’t try to fight it, we should get in front of it.

Some people might assume that because I wrote a story this week about how the salaries of university presidents rose by 40 per cent over six years, I think this salary increase is a bad thing.

Actually, I think the opposite is true. Running a university is an insanely complex task.

While I understand how it looks bad to have presidential salaries soar as tuition and student debts also rise, it wouldn’t benefit students to have incompetent leadership at the top.

And it seems to be a logical function of human nature that if you offer some money, you get more qualified candidates.

As executive recruiter Jack Diamond put it “if you wanted to put a $75,000 ceiling on it you’d get a different crop of candidates.”

Some people question how much difference a president can really make. A university is different from a company. You can’t make it more efficient by cutting back staff, eliminating unsuccessful divisions, or outsourcing to Mexico.

University of Toronto prof Dan Lang thinks that the corporate model may be a bad fit for public universities.

“Viewing the president as a knight in white armour who will solve all your problems is not a good model,” he told me. “Universities are very large and complex organizations.”

Lang suggested it would be better to pay presidents less, and hire more specialized vice presidents.

Maybe that’s a good idea. But it doesn’t quite have the same glamour factor you’d get from hiring a superstar president.

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