By Jackie Hong
A 13-person presidential search committee, a company self-described as “one of the world’s leading global executive search and leadership consulting firms” and 13 months of searching couldn’t find a replacement for Ryerson President Sheldon Levy.
Levy will be holding the top job for up to two more years, the school announced on March 6.
Levy has served two five-year terms at Ryerson but announced in December 2013 that he would not be returning for a third even though Ryerson’s Board of Governors (BoG) quietly changed a by-law on presidential term limits that would have allowed it. The Ryerson Board of Governors (BoG) and Senate put together a committee shortly after to find a successor.
“We had sincerely hoped that at this time we would be announcing the completion of our search. However no candidate for the position is being brought forward to the community,” BoG and Presidential Search Committee Chair Janice Fukakusa said in a press release.
“I am pleased to let you know that President Sheldon Levy has agreed to continue for up to two years. We know that President Levy was making plans for the next phase in his life, and we are very grateful for his support and dedication to the university, and for agreeing to continue in his role.”
Fukakusa didn’t respond to requests for comment. It is unclear if the school had a backup plan should Levy had declined to stay.
“As [with] all [human resources] personnel issues, the deliberations of the search committee are confidential. We can’t speak to who may have applied, been interviewed or been under consideration,” said Ryerson spokesperson Michael Forbes.
Levy said the BoG officially asked him to stay on for up to two more years after a meeting on the evening of March 5 and that the decision was “very unusual.” He added that everything leading up to request had occured within the past 72 hours.
“No one ever expected to get to this decision,” he said. He said he agreed to stay because “you never want to let people down.”
A “special farewell event” at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, dubbed “Decade of Change,” was scheduled for March 25 but the school announced that it was cancelled on March 10.
“There was going to be a party. Good God, a going away party. This is weird now, you know? Can we concoct this into a different kind of party? So there’s stuff that was in motion that’s just not in motion anymore. There was a campaign like ‘give money because he was a nice guy and give to this’ and people were giving,” Levy said. “Oh goodness, what do you do now? Do you give back the money?”
Fukakusa said in the release that the committee “has finished its work and for practical reasons will not be continuing” because some members have “other commitments” or will no longer be members of the BoG or Senate. The BoG and Senate will continue working together to find a solution “as we move ahead,” she said.
“While it is unfortunate that we are not as far along as we would have expected, be assured that we are seeking the best possible president … I will keep you informed of developments,” Fukakusa said in the release.
As of publication, a new contract for Levy had not been drafted. It is also unclear how long Levy will stay. Levy said he doesn’t expect to exceed two years but that “there is no clear route at the moment” on how the university will replace him.
Ryerson hired search firm Spencer Stuart, which specializes in finding candidates for executive positions. The firm routinely finds candidates for banks, major corporations and universities, said partner John Koopman.
Koopman said he couldn’t comment on specific clients but that a search usually lasts 12 to 16 weeks. The firm normally chooses from about 150 possible candidates, then gradually narrows them down to a shortlist of three to five people. Spencer Stuart charges an upfront retainer fee that is usually “one-third of the executive’s first-year compensation,” Koopman said.
Levy’s salary was $370,475.04 in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. One-third of that is $123,491.68.
The firm will “continue to look until we find somebody” unless a client changes its mind, Koopman said. The retainer is charged regardless of whether a candidate is found.
“We’re professionals, we’re no different from a law firm. You lose the case, you’re still paying your lawyer,” Koopman said. “We’re not commissioned salespeople. We’re paid-for professionals and we’re paid for professional effort.”
It is unclear whether Spencer Stuart and the search committee failed to find viable candidates or if candidates pulled out.
The failure to nominate a candidate was not for the lack of trying, Levy said.
“People did everything. People were great. Candidates were great, it just didn’t work out … The dominos just didn’t fall in the right way,” Levy said. He could not elaborate on what caused the committee to not have a candidate due to confidentiality clauses.
It was never in his plans to stay, Levy said, adding that he had already begun clearing out his office.
“In the last six months or whatever, you know, you honestly say, ‘Well, I can’t finish that, throw it over the fence so it lands over here to person unknown,’ … Then all of a sudden, I find myself, ‘God, I’m on that side of the fence,’” he said.
“I haven’t even had time to even discuss it with other people with what the next two years should bring,” Levy said in another interview. “It’s really early but what I can say is that it won’t be slowing down and it won’t be a maintenance type of period.”
Projects Levy will focus on include the Church Street Development, Ryerson’s tentative move into the MaRS building, moving the theatre school out of its aging home on Gerrard Street and securing funding to get more space for the Faculty of Science.
The decision to stay on has also had an impact on Levy’s personal life. He said that although his daughter was upset, his wife was supportive of his decision.
“Tracy also [Levy’s wife] said, ‘Well, if you say yes, you better not be moody and you better get on with it and come out like you did Day One of Year One and get things done, because otherwise you’ll let everyone down,’” Levy said.
Levy had also planned on riding his motorcycle more and to help at Cape Breton University “as a visitor” after leaving Ryerson but now will be doing that at a smaller capacity.
He added that staying, although a hurried decision, was not done begrudgingly.
“It’s not like I’m going into hard labour. I’m going back to something I love doing … I’ve always said, it’s the best job in the world.”
With files from Jake Scott