By Phillip Milano
Tim Cost comes from a global business background in which clear, crisp communication is a priority. He demonstrated that with ease Thursday after being introduced as Jacksonville University’s next president.
The 1981 JU alum needed just four words to sum up his priorities to the media and a JU crowd that welcomed him and his wife, Stephanie, at Terry Concert Hall on campus:
“Students. Faculty. Staff. Community.”
Cost, selected Oct. 26 after a nationwide search to succeed retiring President Kerry Romesburg as the university’s 12th president, used a light, conversational approach in telling audience members that coming in with a set agenda and carved-in-stone goals is not his style.
“There is no leadership without followership,” he said. “I plan to come in and ask what needs to be done and keep my mouth shut. My thoughts right now beyond helping the campus are to build investors in JU, ensure our alumni rediscover us and make the campus-to-community connections that are necessary.”
Cost will take the reins July 1, leading a university that has climbed out of financial hardship during Romesburg’s tenure and is well-positioned for strong growth. He thanked Romesburg and his other great mentor, Dr. Fran Kinne, JU past president and chancellor emeritus.
“For 35 years, this has been the place I have come back to with my heart and energy,” he said. “We have some work to do, but there’s not a single negative thing I can say about this place. I am a proud alum, and you are going to get everything I’ve got. I’m proud to serve.”
In introducing Cost, Romesburg noted the extensive search that yielded more than 80 extraordinary candidates.
“I am delighted with this selection,” he said. “Tim is going to be incredible for JU, and JU is going to be incredible for Tim.”
Board of Trustees Chairman Ron Autrey, whose committee conducted the search, also noted how rigorous it was, and that the outcome was a history-making selection of Cost, a JU psychology graduate and star baseball player.
“We are in a transformative period in our history,” he said. “There is so much momentum, and we’ve picked such an energized leader to take us forward.”
Cost has more than three decades’ experience in strategy, policy, investor relations, crisis/issues management, government relations, communications, fundraising and capital markets. His most recent position was Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs for food and beverage world leader PepsiCo, with revenues of $60 billion and 300,000 employees.
He plans to bring a healthy helping of that savvy to JU.
“I have no interest in being president of any university. I have an intense interest, however, in being president of this university,” he said.
Asked how he envisioned JU five years from now, Cost told the audience he’ll first spend time listening, then taking the actions he discovers are needed to move JU to the next level.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t already have some general ideas for success:
· A re-energized alumni. “I see us with an alumni engagement unlike anything we’ve seen.”
· Investment in technology. “It’s critical to moving us forward.”
· Growing the university. “Can we go up by 200, 500 students? Are we capable of adding another hundred or so students a year? We have the ability.”
· Further diversifying the student base. “We offer a compelling value proposition to folks in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, for example, who are looking at much higher tuition rates up there.”
Cost’s wife, Stephanie, is well aware of his passion for JU and expressed excitement for both of them to take on a new, challenging venture together.
“He’s talked about wanting to do something that he’s passionate about next in his life, because he feels he has so much to offer,” she said.
Stephanie Cost, a “dynamo and powerhouse” herself, as Tim Cost put it, plans to be of service to JU and the community as well. An accomplished business leader and community advocate in her own right, she is chairman and founder of Caritas, a West Chester, Pa.-based philanthropy group, and is on the board of Wings for Success, which helps disadvantaged women transition into the business world. She said she’ll spend time getting acclimated to JU and the broader community, then invest herself in the university, non-profit world and other activities.
Reaction to the selection of Cost and what he can bring to JU was swift and positive from faculty, staff and students.
“As I savor my final months with my mentor, colleague and friend, President Kerry Romesburg, I also anticipate the arrival of Tim Cost,” said Dr. Lois Becker, senior vice president for academic affairs. “His high energy, central focus on student success and dedication to Jacksonville University will bring the campus to new heights, continuing to provide academic excellence to our national and international students.”
JU men’s basketball coach Cliff Warren, meanwhile, was impressed with Cost’s approachability.
“It was really great to see so many people here, so many students, especially. It speaks volumes to the kind of president that we are getting,” he said. “To me, I see him as an everyday guy, a ‘Renaissance Man’ for the university because of the effective way he communicates and relates to the students, to the faculty, to the staff, to athletics, to fine arts – to everyone.”
Summer Wassel, a freshman engineering major and lacrosse player from Baltimore, Md., said she came away from the event energized.
“He’s very positive and enthusiastic. He gets you excited and motivated. I think he’s a good choice.”
In keeping with Cost’s own crisp, to-the-point approach, perhaps the best summary came from a quick quip made by a staff member leaving the auditorium:
“Well, I think we’ve been blessed by this choice.”
JU Assistant Director of News Kevin Hogencamp contributed to this report.