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Members of the presidential search committee meet for the first time at the Center for Innovation on the University of North Dakota campus Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald.

NDUS spent more than $400,000 search firm AGB

The North Dakota University System has spent more than $400,000 with Washington, D.C.-based AGB Search over the past eight years.

Of the seven searches conducted by AGB, three of the leaders hired have left the university system in that time, including former University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy.

AGB Search will be used once again as the NDUS prepares to replace Kennedy, who now is the president of the University of Colorado system. The NDUS plans to spend $57,000 with AGB for the search, less than it spent on the search that brought Kennedy to UND.

AGB was one of four companies to place a bid to be part of the search process. AGB’s approximately $47,000 bid was the lowest available to the committee last month. The additional $10,000 will include travel expenses and other out-of-pocket advertising costs for AGB.


The committee could choose from four firms that have worked with the system at some point.

AGB Search charged $70,000 for its work in 2016 and had an additional $8,500 in travel expenses. The total estimated cost of the search was just over $145,000, which included candidate travel to Grand Forks and Minneapolis, search committee member expenses to Minneapolis and staff time. Not all of that money went to AGB, according to NDUS spokesperson Billie Jo Lorius.

AGB helped conduct seven searches for NDUS in the past eight years. The system has spent $431,000 in base fees with the firm, including:

  • 2012: Lake Region State College president search, which named Doug Darling.

    $55,000, plus reimbursement of all reasonable travel-related expenses and out-of-pocket costs.

  • 2014: North Dakota University System chancellor search, which named Mark Hagerott.

    $65,000, plus up to $8,000 for consultant travel, $6,000 for advertising and $750 for background checks on three candidates.

  • 2014: Valley City State president search, which named Tisa Mason. Mason later left VCSU for a position at her former campus.

    $58,000, plus up to $8,000 for consultant travel, $6,000 for advertising, and $750 for background checks on three candidates.

  • 2015: Dickinson State University’s president search, which named Thomas Mitzel.

    $58,000, plus up to $8,000 for consultant travel, $6,000 for advertising, and $750 for background checks on three candidates.

  • 2016: UND’s president search, which named Kennedy.

    $70,000, plus up to $16,750 in travel and advertising expenses (those costs were ultimately around $8,500).

  • 2017: Mayville State University president search, which named Brian Van Horn.

    $65,000, plus up to $14,000 in travel expenses and advertising costs.

  • 2018: Valley City State president search, which named Alan LaFave.

    $60,000 in consultant fees, plus up to $14,000 in travel expenses and advertising costs.

AGB was also involved in other recent presidential searches in the region. The University of Minnesota system spent nearly $260,000 on the search that eventually led to naming Joan Gabel as president. The firm is conducting a presidential search for the University of Nebraska.

While AGB has been used several times recently, NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott noted that there is no tendency for the University System to use one firm or another and that it is up to the campus search committees themselves to choose firms to work with.

Hagerott said thus far the two most recent presidential searches with Mayville State and Valley City State have proven to be successful as Van Horn and LaFave received praise in their communities over the past year. He noted that Mason left when her previous college was in need of a new president quickly. Hagerott added that Kennedy’s departure from UND has been an outlier among the group of recent hires.

AGB will have a reduced role in the UND search for this go-round. Instead of the typical 20 items asked of a search firm in other searches, AGB instead will be focused on nine areas, thus the reduction in spending on the firm.

AGB will be asked to devise a “proactive regional and national recruitment strategy tailored to UND’s needs,” including soliciting nominations and applications. The firm will advise the search committee in effective recruitment and evaluation strategies, provide a website for the search materials and review applications. Additionally, AGB will play an active role in the evaluation and the screening of candidates, and the company may assist in negotiations “to encourage a selected individual to accept the position.”

Search committee co-chairs Casey Ryan and Denny Elbert conducted listening sessions with the campus community. That was at least one job carried out by AGB during the 2015-16 search.

AGB offers experience and the opportunity to find candidates to whom the committee may not otherwise have access, Ryan said following the July 24 meeting. The firm also understands what type of person the committee is trying to find for UND. Elbert said AGB will be able to help in the early vetting process for candidates.

“They also help us with the process of keeping things private until it’s appropriate to go public,” Ryan said.

Ryan and Elbert have said they view the firm as a “recruiting firm” versus a “search firm.”

"The search firms ... they probably have a list of 50 people who they know are out there looking for a job," Ryan said following an early July listening session. "We want to see that connection. We need someone who's passionate. You can be passionate without having gone to UND or even being from North Dakota. ... With a recruiting firm, if you have a name, you'll go after them even if they're not already out there."

The job posting for the UND president position was upload to AGB’s website last week.