Picking a president for Red River College

RRC knows what it wants in a new leader

Cathy Rushton is filling in as interim president and CEO of Red River College until a permanent replacement can be found.

Physically, it was a short trip for Red River College’s (RRC) interim president and CEO Cathy Rushton to fill the vacant presidency position until a permanent replacement is found. Mentally, however, it’s a whole other story.

“It’s moving down the hall a couple offices, but it’s a complete shift in focus, and that’s refreshing,” said Rushton, the college’s chief financial officer since 1995 and the vice-president of finance and administration since 2006.

Rushton was asked to step into the role after Jeff Zabudsky announced he would be leaving his post to accept the position of president and CEO of Ontario’s Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in December 2009.

While RRC’s cross-country search has just begun this month with advertisements running in newspapers like the Globe and Mail, Rushton is appreciating this opportunity to glimpse into the positive aspects of the institution.

“What I really do like is that I get to hear a lot of really good stories,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re in the finance role, it’s not always good news.”

Being the face of RRC and having the chance to connect with students, government, industry and community members alike, Rushton’s new position forces her to balance opportunity with reality.

“You hear all sorts of positive things and ideas that you are excited about, but at the same time you know that you can only afford to do some of them,” she explained.

That ability to balance needs with costs in the way of industry and government partnerships is one of the main characteristics that the RRC Board of Governors will be looking for in a new president, according to the board’s chair Sheryl Feller.

“When you’re using public money, it’s best to use it in the best way possible, and partnerships are usually a win-win situation,” Feller said.

Working with the Vancouver-based Geldart Group, which specializes in executive searches and leadership consulting, Feller and the board have identified specific personality traits they will be looking for in the candidates’ resumes.

“Positive, personable and approachable. For me, that pretty much sums it up,” Feller said.

She added that other qualities high on the list include high-energy, patience and the ability to inspire and engage both students and stakeholders.

As noted by Feller, Jeff Zabudsky is a man who embodied all of those qualities in his nearly six-year term as the president of RRC. Looking back on his years representing the college, Zabudsky believes talking to people is one of the most important responsibilities.

“You have to be a very strong communicator,” he said from his office in Oakville, Ont. “As a president, you’re asked so often to speak to hundreds of people, so you can’t help but improve at it. You need to be able to articulate with passion and energy what the organization is about.”

Zabudsky stresses that the incoming president must be aware of the new brand of student coming through the doors.

“I’m seeing that students are expecting a lot more from their institution,” he said. “They’re acting more like customers and asking for more value in their educational experience. That doesn’t mean we throw quality out the door, it just means how we offer services to students needs to be more flexible.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 11, 2010)

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