Ensuring Your Advantage in Higher Education Search

A Chronicle of Higher Education contributing columnist for +20 years who is well educated regarding academic affairs and executive search wrote Wheless Partners is “the most effective search firm in higher education search today”.   Adding, “I have some broad knowledge and understanding of the search firm industry… I have interviewed partners at many search firms and gotten a chance to compare the best practices in the search industry… While many fine search firms exist, several factors make me particularly impressed with Wheless.”

Now, perhaps more than at any other time in Higher Education, the call for leadership to serve as a catalyst for growth, educational affordability for students, system financial and cultural health is essential.   Those at the helm today are required to be insightful, innovative, compelling leaders.  Consequently, delivering a robust and accomplished slate of candidates of truly recruited candidates for your consideration and hire is our mission and purpose. 

Wheless Partners is called on by marquee higher education entities and has successfully completed among the most significant searches in the in the country.   Irrespective of political complexities, affiliations, geographic location and challenges faced by the institutions who have engaged us.  We have navigated engagements to positive conclusions surpassing expectations of clients served.

Your likely first question… is the Wheless capable of conducting your search?  Here is a representative sampling:

  • System Chancellor – Designated Hispanic Serving multi-billion-dollar university/academic medicine system
  • System Chancellor – Second largest university/academic medical system in the United States (including largest AAU university in the country and the world’s #1 cancer institution)
  • System Chancellor – 14 institution university system
  • System Chancellor – Multi-billion-dollar university/academic medicine system
  • System President – (AAU) Multi-billion-dollar university/academic medicine system, including a “Top 50 University in the World” and significant health sciences enterprise
  • System Chancellor/President – Designated Hispanic Serving university and community college system

Accolades from clients are valued and indeed appreciated.   The reasons for such positive feedback and we produce unmatched outcomes are rather simple.   We bring a unique hiring pathway ensuring your search is set apart in a fashion and manner to bring top proven highly desired leaders before you. 

  • We do not rely on a database to find candidates.   Your search requirements are unique to you.  Your culture at is unique.  Your strategic projects and initiatives are unique, specific to your system and evolving.   Consequently, this requires intentional research and candidate targeting/engagement specifically for you.

A hypothetical example… perhaps one of the areas of expertise you might be seeking in your next CEO is someone who has a deep understanding of how to systemically deploy analytics for strategic decision making at a high level. This will require employing targeted research to identify large and complex organizations that are excelling in the use of data analytics and the leadership that has led the charge organizationally.  Not a generalized slate of candidates extracted from a database. Candidates we will develop for you are happy, not looking and fully engaged in their work.  These are the leaders we seek with near exclusivity.  We do not have a “bench” of usual suspects to roll into the candidate pool on searches we lead.   You know the ones.

  • We purposefully keep the number of clients served finite.

Why? There’s a simple equation and it is as follows: the more clients a search firm has, the fewer exceptional candidates they can produce. Because a firm cannot raid their long list of client organizations to recruit their talent for you at your critical time of need.


If a search firm is serving 40% of the organizations where your next leader is working,  it means the moment you sign their contract, you just eliminated 40% of the candidate pool, before the search even begins!   By keeping our client base capped and serving up to 3% of target worthy higher education organizations, we ensure your access to nearly the complete array of candidates up and down the ranks of higher education.   Appreciate access to candidates is the oxygen you require from your search firm…would you rather have 60% lung capacity or 97%.  We will help you breathe easy.

  • While fully engaged throughout the process, we are a bit fanatical about how it begins as that sets the tone, tenor and pace for the engagement.  This includes investing sufficient time with the key stakeholders to understanding the successful candidate phenotype.  Of course, through our experience with searches, we know what higher ed leaders do in general terms.   Key insight we seek:   What do you want your next leader to accomplish?  How will you know they have been successful after their first 12, 24, 36 months in the role? Is there an appetite for non-traditional candidates in the mix and from what background(s)?   What perspectives would be a value-add to the organization and position?   Are there issues and items that will require the skills and style to push over the finish line?  What strategic initiatives are being prosecuted now and what new initiatives would you like to see explored?   Diving deep at the onset of the search is essential to a great outcome.   We do this well.

For Those New to the Search Process

Over thirty years of experience in the search industry, many higher education search committees are comprised of first-time participants, and, from time to time, a search chair new to the executive search process – even within the context of a President or Chancellor search. Because of this dynamic and a search committee with little to no experience in an executive search process, our approach is educational and mentoring, not telling.  Essentially, every step of the process “Methodology” is in fact a learning and training opportunity involving training the Hiring Manager, the Search Chair, Committee Members, Board Directors, the System President/Chancellor, and other key stakeholders in the process. Because we have sat in key leadership positions and presided over hundreds of search processes, the expertise our team brings to the client experience is immeasurable.

Informing Candidate Assessment Tools   (You’ll love these!)

With our firm’s skill in attracting top national candidates to engage them in conversation, and in combination with the use of Wheless Partners’ candidate assessment tools, prospective candidates are accurately assessed for desired technical skill sets, soft skills and motivations, and the organization’s key stakeholders and search committee members will be fully equipped and well prepared to select those candidates who are most viable and best “fit” the criteria for the role.

Clients and search committee members frequently comment about our tools:

  • Allow the search committee to truly compare and contrast one candidate against another

  • Provide information that a resume cannot, such as insight into the candidate’s thought processes, flow of logic, and communication skills

  • Provides valuable documentation to validate a hiring decision

  • Allows every committee member to have an equal voice in the assessment process by evaluating each candidate based on elements of the Selection Criteria.

  • Assists the committee in determining those candidates who best fit the criteria for the role as well as the culture of the organization, and who are most suitable for advancement to the next phase in the hiring process.

  • Provides the format for an apolitical process by which all candidates can be truly compared and contrasted.

Candidate Management and Engagement

As former executives, we have been a client of many search firms, have participated as a candidate ourselves in numerous searches, and experienced first-hand the impact of excessively long and frustrating searches, and infrequent and impersonal interactions.

Now as executive search leaders, we have translated our experience into a practical pragmatic market-defining pathway firmly rooted in rational business logic that ensures your success. Our backgrounds and national network of trusted and informed colleagues provides unique insights and a differential advantage in understanding the viewpoint of candidates and interacting with them with professionalism and respect throughout the process.

Wheless Partners remains in close communication with all candidates, especially those who rise to the top as viable contenders for a job.  Since we recruit and engage exclusively with passive candidates who are employed, happy where they are, and “not looking”, these candidates are more likely to resist initial efforts to bring them into a process of due diligence, and even when they declare themselves as candidates, they remain busy bringing value to their current clients.  Much caring work is involved on our part to maintain their interest and engagement throughout each phase of the search.

Among key elements to our proven candidate engagement process is the toolkit we \developed and utilize in the assessment process, tools employed at various junctures to gather added information and data from the candidate, and as they progress deeper into the process, involving their spouse/significant other/family as well.  These built-in touchpoints, as well as keeping candidates apprised of search progress via phone, email and text, have proven to be successful time, after time, after time.

Let’s today begin a dialogue as to how our Portfolio Approach and Portfolio Promise combine to uniquely position your enterprise assuring you consistently hire those proven top of the bell curve leaders.

Email MikeW@WhelessPartners.com to calendar a time to advance our conversation. Or phone 404.939.1305.   

Anticipate our speaking….