An Era of Mission Renewal Ms. Janet Napolitano, President, University of California System

An Era of Mission Renewal

The Regents and the leadership of the University of California stewarded the System and campuses through a brutal recessionary period and five years of persistent budget cutting. They reduced administrative costs, increased philanthropy, and reluctantly increased tuition and fees, all of which successfully preserved the University's academic distinction and competitive standing. In the aftermath, the Regents launched a search for a successor to Mark Yudof's demanding but successful presidency.


The University of California educates 220,000 students in ten research intensive universities. It contains the largest collection of highly ranked public universities in the world: Berkeley, San Francisco, Davis, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Irvine, Santa Cruz, and Merced. The University of California System is essential to the most progressive parts of California's economy and crucial to the ambitions of the state's diverse and talented students and their families.

The Regents believed that the UC needed to create a new "social compact" with the citizens of California and their public officials to interrupt the long term trend of reduced state funding and ensure the necessary resources to strengthen the University. The System had done good work increasing efficiency across the board and those initiatives had to continue and gain in strength. Finally, the University needed to raise money on every campus from private philanthropy, gaining contributions from the economy it has helped to invent.

Isaacson, Miller was honored to have the opportunity to serve the University in a search that the firm - and the Regents - believed was critical to the future success of public higher education in the country. The firm's experience with prominent higher education and civic institutions gave Isaacson, Miller a head start in assisting with this significant recruitment.

Forming the Team and Executing a Successful Process

IM partner David Bellshaw led the San Francisco-based team, together with firm founder and chair John Isaacson and managing associate Bernard Jones. Bellshaw was well suited to lead the project given his broad search experience and knowledge of the University. A California native and a passionate supporter of its higher education system, he and his family are all UC graduates and hold advanced degrees. "Many generations of my family are beneficiaries of California public higher education. I believe in its power to transform lives. I wanted this search to be a great success," he says.

The Definition Stage

The Isaacson, Miller team worked closely with the Regents and the Search Advisory Committee to conduct in-depth conversations with members of the UC community to refine and re-define the description of the role and identify the scope of a successful search. Simple questions, such as how one would measure the success of the work of the next president three to five years in the future, posed to a broad spectrum of constituents, brought into focus a picture of the tangible desired outcomes and the leadership skills and experience required of a successful candidate.

Deepening the Pool, Measuring the Accomplishment, Documenting, and Re-checking

In an intensive and efficient five-month period, a subcommittee of esteemed faculty leaders, with active assistance from the IM team, evaluated and winnowed the original pool from hundreds of prospects to a well-vetted group. They considered "traditional" models, such as sitting presidents in other public and private university systems, and "non-traditional" candidates, whose experience and passions had prepared them for this formidable leadership challenge.

As the committee's in-depth interviewing and Isaacson, Miller's thorough referencing unfolded, the Regents and the firm carefully preserved the confidentiality of its potential candidates while systematically learning more about their backgrounds and verifying their skills and accomplishments.

A Bold, Successful Hire

The ultimate choice came not from academia, although there were many excellent candidates from that realm, but from government and public service. Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security when the search began, and a former and popular "education governor" in Arizona, took office at the UC in the fall of 2013. She is the first woman to lead the System. Her almost immediate announcements of new programs and funding initiatives to benefit students, staff, and faculty signaled a powerful start for the University of California's 20th president.