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JU President finalist Cost stresses his energy, even-handedness in campus visit

By Phillip Milano

Combining emotional intensity for his alma mater with an even-handed listening style, Jacksonville University presidential finalist Tim Cost put forth his ideas and background Friday during meetings with staff, faculty, students and the public. 

JU Presidential finalist Tim Cost

Cost, an Executive Vice President/Consultant for PepsiCo in New York (see full bio below), was the last on the schedule of campus visits by three finalist candidates vying for the job. He emphasized his love of JU and critical skills honed in the business world as reasons he can help move the university forward. 

Waving to familiar faces in the room and wearing a dark suit, blue tie and JU lapel pin, Cost invited a morning audience of staff members to not be shy with their questions. In a back-and-forth that at times had the feel of a focus group, he spent a good deal of time with his “mouth shut and listening a lot,” as he put it. 

Here are some highlights from that hour-long meeting: 

On his time at JU: Cost said he came to North Florida from upstate New York 35 years ago, and, “In my heart I never left. I’ve invested more time, money and emotion here than anywhere. (JU Past President and Chancellor Emeritus) Fran Kinne was a huge part of my life and taught me what a real leader is.” Cost remarked that he’s made 18 trips to Jacksonville for JU business in the last year alone, and that he’s told his bosses at PepsiCo, after being nominated for the JU job, that he’s not in the market for a president position at any other place in the country – not even at the University of Rochester, where he received his MBA. “I am honored and privileged to have a chance to serve as a team member with you all here.” 

On his work as a member of JU’s Board of Trustees. “Unbelievably exciting” things are in the works for the university, developments soon to be made public that will create “massive opportunities” for faculty, students, athletes, staff and the community, Cost said. Being able to walk into a room and explain and champion those opportunities to donors and others who may have varied concerns or agendas is a talent he’s acquired from his years in the corporate world, he said. 

On athletics. It’s a key linchpin to marketing a university outside its region. “Everyone, for example, knows Artis Gilmore was a star basketball player at JU,” he said. “Athletics creates an instant connection for (NCAA) Division I schools.” He noted that surveys show that students rank enhanced athletics high as a key factor in their college experience. “They want to be part of a campus community that celebrates this together. I support that.” 

On the importance of technology. It’s a huge factor in the college and student experience, with increased use of gadgets such as iPads and iPhones helping students in academics and aiding staff and administrators reach daily and long-term goals. “We are behind the curve on that, and it’s a long-running challenge. When I was a student here, we used to have to stand in line to use a typewriter. So I get that it’s critical, and I’m very serious about the issue of improving our technology here.” Focus groups that bring more detail about which technology, software and “apps” are needed to bring JU up to speed would be high on Cost’s list once he came aboard, he said.

On bringing his business experience into an academic setting. The core mission of any university is to do a great job educating students, with the role of establishing a strong curriculum firmly belonging to the faculty. He would ensure a deep well of senior strength among the ranks, which is vital to the university’s mission. That said, JU is a business, like any other, with income, expenses, a payroll, branding issues and taxes, Cost said. “That’s where as president, I show up, listen, and implement that kind of shared governance that makes an institution work best. If you use that model, you move seamlessly from consulting people, to cooperating, and then to collaborating. And that is important to making sure we run effectively.” 

On student retention and enrollment at JU. Cost said he recognizes that the issue of keeping good students is imperative. With a lower retention rate than peer institutions, JU has some work to do. “We need to study it and find out what aspects of the social, academic and administrative experience are most important to keeping students coming back.” During the staff meeting, Cost facilitated a lengthy discussion among attendees on the issue, even offering to grab lunch with one staff member to further flesh out concerns the staff member had about a perceived disconnect between JU students and administrators. He said a major part of unlocking the challenge of moving JU forward, including with retention, can be addressed by adding 300 to 500 students, “and they are already on campus. We just need to keep them here.” He stressed the need to bring in experts and consultants to address retention, as well as to help make JU a destination university. 

On his leadership style. Cost mentioned that as president he would bring “no template of execution” with him, but rather would use his skills at acquiring information to formulate plans. “You’ve got to start with the students and faculty and work your way out. To me, leadership is service. That’s how good plans come to the fore. You need to meet people and make connections. There is no leadership without followership. If you don’t trust a leader, you’re not going to go where he or she wants to go.” He pointed to his participative style, and noted that eight people who have been his No. 2s in the business world are now in the top spot at different companies. “I love nothing more than developing staff and seeing them succeed. If I’d wanted to, I could’ve let them stay and I could’ve just gone golfing. But that’s not my style. The staff run a place. You need a happy staff.” 

On his critics and past mistakes. Cost said after the meeting that any critics of his would likely mention that he doesn’t have academic experience, but that “leadership is leadership, and my passion for JU and skills in other fields can easily apply to JU. As president, I can advance the university and am well-equipped to do so.” As far as miscues, early on in his career, he saw that underestimating the passion and tenacity of those with differing views can lead to problems. “I learned through mistakes that you have to give a 360-degree view to any issue. You can’t assume everyone sees the same facets. You have to walk around all sides and get all perspectives. And that’s what gets you to a better place.”

The new JU president, to be decided upon by the Board of Trustees and announced Nov. 1, will take office effective July 1, 2013, replacing JU President Kerry Romesburg, who has announced his retirement after a 45-year higher-education career. 

To see an article on the three finalists, click here. Submit your confidential feedback on each candidate, which will be discussed by the Board prior to selecting a new president, by visiting here before 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22.  


Biography of Tim Cost 

Tim Cost has more than 30 years of senior executive experience at many of the world’s top companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Kodak, ARAMARK, Wyeth and Pharmacia. He has also been Chairman of Global Health Care for Washington-based consulting firm APCO Worldwide. His most recent position has been Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs for food and beverage world leader PepsiCo, with revenues of $60 billion and 300,000 employees. Cost has more than three decades’ experience in strategy, policy, investor relations, crisis/issues management, government relations, communications, fundraising and capital markets. A 1981 JU graduate who also holds an MBA from the William E. Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, he was given the Jacksonville University Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006 and also selected as a Distinguished Dolphin to help celebrate Jacksonville University’s 75th anniversary. He has served on the JU Board of Trustees since 2009 and as chairman of committees on enrollment and retention, and development. As a JU athlete and four-year letterman on the baseball team, he is one of the top 10 winningest pitchers in JU Baseball history (.688 career winning percentage) and as a freshman, pitched the only nine-inning no-hitter in Jacksonville University history.