USC must be cautious

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

November 2, 2007 Ed Cartoon

With the exit from the general manager position of Karen Jackson after only two years of her five-year contract it is clear the University Students’ Council is heading in a bold direction.

This situation presents obvious challenges for the USC.

A busy group of student leaders has the added workload of the GM, plus the task of hiring a new one. Even once a GM is hired, the USC must move forward for the first time with a GM that has not been transitioned by an old manager and lacks institutional memory.

The GM plays an intrinsic role in mentoring the new Board of Directors each year; instability in the position will make it difficult for an ever-changing board.

Whether or not the board can handle the challenges, was the risk worth it?

Jackson’s upbringing within the USC was during an era from which the USC seems to be moving away. She worked under two ex-military GMs whose focus was on rebuilding the financial stability of the organization.

Jackson was hired in a role where her incentives were tied to turning a profit each year, rather than placing all funds into student programming.

When the USC released its long-term plan last year, it abolished all incentive programs and changed the role of the GM. The direction of the USC shifted.

Whatever events precipitated Jackson’s departure, her background as an accountant and her experience with the USC do not fit the new model.

USC President Tom Stevenson has said the USC is looking to hire someone with experience managing people and with a background in not-for-profit organizations. Possibly they are looking for someone whose focus is more in human resources.

It will be essential for the USC not to shift its outlook too far. It is important for the USC to be fiscally responsible. The more money the USC can make, the more it can spend on students.

There is a danger the USC will become too focused on student programming and lose a shrewd eye for the bottom line.

With a GM in transition, the USC is vulnerable to falling back into the financial turmoil of the late ’80s.

The USC must ensure it takes its time in selecting a new GM. A rushed decision where the wrong person is selected, or someone who only lasts another two years, will keep the USC in a cycle of troublesome overturn.

The new GM will have to be a careful balance of financial manager and student-driven leader.

For years the complaint has been raised the USC is too corporate in nature, too focused on finances and not enough on students. It seems they are moving in a positive direction by removing an accountant GM from the old finance-first era.

Who the USC selects as the next GM will be key to understanding if they really are going in a new direction, and if that direction is a good one.

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