Client TestimonialsRead what other's have to say about Susan.
Philip S. Khoury (American University of Beirut)
July 30, 2020
In the summer of 2019, Dr. Susan Pierce agreed to serve as consultant to the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut (AUB), which is the oldest and largest U.S. accredited university outside the United States. Her assignment: to help navigate the AUB Board of Trustees through an important but complex exercise to bring its governance fully into the 21st century.
Dr. Pierce admits that before she accepted her assignment she had not encountered a Board quite like the AUB Board, with its 45 regular trustees with no fixed term limits and distributed across the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and with another dozen emeriti trustees who participate fully in its deliberations. Nor had she worked with a university obliged to respect both US law and the law of its host country, or that exists in such an unstable region of the world.
The AUB Board leadership has at different times in the past twenty years hired consultants to help it become more deliberately strategic in the pursuit of its mission. They came to the Board with national reputations and served us well. But, none has been as creative, thoughtful, and deliberate, or as patient, as Dr. Pierce in advancing us to our stated goal, and in line with best practices in not-for-profit American universities. What has allowed her to advance so ably the Board’s goal of revamping its organization is her vast knowledge from years of consulting on Board governance, about which she writes so intelligently, and her on-the-ground experience from serving with distinction as a university president; that experience required her to learn from the inside how to enable the very board that hired her to perfect its own governance system. Dr. Pierce’s credentials are impeccable.
Dr. Pierce did an enormous amount of homework before she began to roll out for the trustees’ Governance Review Committee a viable restructuring plan. She attended full Board meetings and specific committee meetings to observe close up Board behavior. She met with many trustees and the university leadership, and she has been fully engaged in the Board’s deliberations on proposed governance changes. She advanced the Board’s main goal: to become far more nimble and strategic in the pursuit of its mission and at the same time allow the daily management of the university to remain where it belongs, in the hands of the AUB president and his senior management team. Throughout her work Dr. Pierce also made certain to respect the best aspects of the Board’s culture and traditions.
Dr. Pierce has moved the AUB Board to the point where it will shortly vote in a major Board restructuring plan and begin to implement it on an accelerated timetable. By November 2020, the Board will begin to test the plan in its different dimensions. That all this has been accomplished is extraordinary, and especially because Dr. Pierce has had to work with the completely unexpected: a global pandemic and, in Lebanon’s case, the rapid decline of its economy and financial system, which has required exceptionally difficult and painful changes at AUB itself. At a time when it is easy to become distracted, Dr. Pierce kept our Board moving forward and always with sensitivity to the prevailing conditions and constraints we face. She continues to work closely with our Governance Review Committee and our full Board.
If new needs arise from within our Board or from our senior leadership team in Beirut that require external advice, I would first turn to Dr. Susan Pierce for her input. I know our president feels the same way. As a consultant to university boards on matters of governance and much else she is sui generis. I feel privileged to be working with Dr. Pierce.
(Associate Provost, Ford International Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Cheryl Glicker Milstein (Barnard College)
Barnard College recently brought Susan on to conduct a 360 review of our president. She quickly became known as very thoughtful and helpful in guiding the discussion and framing the right questions, in both private and semi private meetings with all constituents, making this process pleasant and easy for everyone involved.As Susan is able to draw from her past experience as a college president and her current role as educational advisor, her judgment was incredibly valuable. I found her to be focused on the right path, listening to what everyone had to say and synthesizing the information in a way that not only aided the trustees now, but will help form guidelines for use in future evaluations.As a newly appointed board chair, I counted on Susan to answer questions for me in areas that I was unfamiliar with. She not only drew from her own personal knowledge and experience, she also shared other sources to help me gain a more comprehensive view. I am truly grateful for this extraordinary assistance.Susan is a wonderful, patient, and very knowledgeable leader in the field of higher education, effective board governance, and presidential performance evaluations.Though tasked with a very specific job for Barnard, she became a great asset to the College on many levels, and we would not hesitate to consult with her again.Cheryl
Alisa Gaunder (Southwestern University)
Susan Pierce engaged with Southwestern University to promote a better understanding of shared governance among faculty, administrators and trustees. She met with various constituencies, presented best practices, and most crucially listened.
In my opinion, Susan’s greatest strength lies in her ability to build relationships and trust in a short period of time. Faculty responded to her warmth, empathy and deep attention.
Over the course of a year with her guidance and support our institution successfully created an aspirational statement on shared governance endorsed by both faculty and trustees.
Personally, as Dean of the Faculty and a close partner with her in this work, I continue to benefit from her wisdom and generosity of spirit. She is a valued and trusted mentor who has encouraged me to amplify my presence and voice in higher ed conversations. Her consulting work has been a true bright spot in my career.
Timothy Szerlong (Illinois Wesleyan University)
Susan’s leadership experience and deep insights into higher education are certain to be valuable to any college or university. She quickly develops a strong command of the key issues facing the institution, provides constructive analysis and challenges traditional thinking. She is an invaluable resource in advancing compelling ideas reflecting her depth of experience and deep awareness of the unprecedented challenges in higher education today. Her collaborative approach enables the development of the best alternatives to advance the university. She is well-positioned in the higher ed community and draws on her many relationships and resources to further support her clients.Susan is a skilled leader and valued trusted advisor. She demonstrated boundless commitment and real passion for IWU in her engagement with us. She is a truly vested partner who is tireless in her commitment to excellence.Board Chair Illinois Wesleyan University, Timothy Szerlong
Edward B. Burger (Southwestern University)
Dr. Pierce’s leadership experience in higher education, together with her remarkable capacity to actively listen to different perspectives and engage individuals in thoughtful conversations, invites open discussion and fresh perspectives among all constituency groups. She is able to identify opportunities for institutional improvement and then suggests creative ideas and practical initiatives for consideration to make those potential improvements a true reality. She is also a pleasure with whom to engage and inspires genuine optimism.President and Professor, Edward B. Burger
Prof. Wendy Cadge (Brandeis University)
Susan helped a committee of faculty work through a long and detailed process to revise faculty governance at Brandeis University. She provided expert guidance all along the way preparing background materials, interviewing a broad range of campus constituents, advising the group on best practices, and helping us strategize about how to bring the process to an effective close. The new faculty governance model is stronger because of her many contributions to the process, and the faculty most deeply involved learned an enormous amount along the way.Professor Wendy Cadge
Dr. Barbara K. Mistick (Wilson College)
Henry Stoever (President, Assoc. of Governing Boards)
I worked with Susan during this past year to elevate my knowledge of higher education and to expand my leadership capacity as a new president. The depth of her knowledge and the scope of her strategic insights were invaluable as I led AGB through the COVID
pandemic while also empowering our 40,000 members to serve as strategic thought partners focused on student success and long-term institutional vitality. Susan also is an excellent editor and has worked effectively on special projects with members of my Leadership Team, has presented to the AGB Board of Directors and will soon facilitate the Board’s annual retreat. Without hesitation, I highly recommend board leaders and presidents to engage with Susan and to collaboratively sharpen their strategies, initiatives, and plans to exceed community expectations.
Anne C. Balant (SUNY-New Paltz)
Dr. Pierce has helped us find a way forward to transform our faculty governance system. Her deep understanding of the inner workings of colleges and universities and her perspectives on shared governance are invaluable. A close questioner, careful listener, and astute analyzer, she rapidly became conversant with the culture and issues on our campus. Her consulting visit and report have been a catalyst for positive change. An added benefit: she worked equally well with members of our task force, other members of the faculty and key administrators so that our very process exemplified shared governance.
Barbara Feigin (Whitman College Board of Trustees)
I first came to know Susan Resneck Pierce and her work when she consulted with and facilitated a retreat with Whitman College’s President and Board of Trustees and other key members of the Whitman community to launch a significant strategic planning effort. Because Whitman’s Board of Trustees had decided to review and revamp its governance structure and operational practices, Susan led a special session on board governance to provide the group with an understanding of relevant higher ed issues, best practices in governance of liberal arts colleges, traps to avoid and the like.
The Board created a seven-person Governance Review Committee which I chair to review and recommend relevant changes in Whitman’s governance structure and practices. Susan has been deeply engaged consulting with us throughout what will be a year-long project, as we’ve tackled our very important charge. Susan believes strongly that each college, and each governance challenge, is unique; there are no cookie-cutter approaches that fit all situations. Accordingly, she has developed an in-depth understanding of Whitman. Beyond that, the special skills and talents Susan brings to our work include her
- Broad-gauged understanding and a wealth of knowledge about higher education
- Deep and extensive history in governance of liberal arts colleges
- Exceptional listening skills; she makes sure she listens respectfully to all parties
- Outstanding written and oral communication skills
- Very high energy and very high personal performance standards
- Understanding of the relationship between the Board and the President and administration and other groups in the community and great empathy for all
- Commitment to collaboration, inclusion, and consensus building
Susan has great passion for her work, she’s a diplomat par excellence, and she has a twinkle in her eye and an informal personal style that’s easy to like! Susan has become our invaluable partner.
Michael M. Rue (Xavier University)
Following the retirement of Dr. Norman Francis after 47 years of strong leadership as our president, the Xavier University Board of Trustees retained Dr. Susan Pierce to conduct an institutional review. Xavier had never before had the benefit of such a review. The Board of Trustees believed that Dr. Pierce could help our new president, Dr. C. Reynold Verret and the board identify traditions worthy of retaining and areas where improvement was needed and best practices could be employed. She did not disappoint!
During her three visits to campus over a two month period, Susan met individually with every member of the senior leadership team, a number of trustees, Dr. Francis, Dr. Verret and some members of the faculty. She also met with small groups of faculty, staff members and students and with the Executive Committee of the Board. She read a vast array of documents provided by Xavier.
Before composing her report Susan sought to gain a genuine understanding of Xavier and the challenges we face as a small private, historically black college which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and its lingering after-effects. She listened carefully and was attentive to nuance.
Susan Pierce provided Xavier with an important roadmap for the future. She provided insightful observations and made extremely helpful recommendations about: how the university was organized, admissions and retention, how we use financial aid, fundraising, student life, institutional positioning, how we allocate resources and develop the budget, and shared governance. She made specific, actionable suggestions that provided our president with the means to craft an effective action plan to implement needed changes.
Susan was a wonderful collaborator who took pains to fashion a review that would be of value to the university when completed rather than another report to be simply filed away. I am still astonished by the time and effort she expended on this project. She has a combination of wisdom and experience and I look forward to working with her again in the future.
Vivi-Ann Fischer (Northwestern Health Sciences University Trustee)
Dr. Pierce facilitated one of the best strategic planning meeting I have ever attended! The board of trustees had ample brainstorming and discussion time, and finished the meeting with solid strategic ideas that were focused and realistic to implement. The collaborative approach that included consideration of all university stakeholders – the board leadership, members of the faculty, the president and senior staff was much appreciated.
Mary B. Marcy (Dominican University of California)
Rich Wagner (Dunwoody College of Technology)
When I was appointed as President, I needed a confidant to evaluate the effectiveness of our fundraising team and help build the structures for a more engaged Board of Trustees. Susan provided all of that and more. Her in-depth knowledge of higher education and experience as a successful university president gives you confidence that her recommendations are going to be spot on. She quickly synthesized information and communicated strategic improvements that would help create a more engaged Board of Trustees and fundraising function. Several years later, Dunwoody has made significant improvements, none of which would have been possible without the input and guidance of Susan. She did a great job for us and I strongly recommend her for any college or university.
Beth Herman (EBH Consulting LLC)
Constancy is an increasingly rare and treasured facet of leadership. I had the good fortune to serve the University of Puget Sound with the same board chair and the same president — Susan Resneck Pierce — for a full decade, together building a successful development program and comprehensive campaign. In this time of destructive churn at the upper ranks, Puget Sound made huge strides during and well beyond Susan’s presidency. I and many others are indebted to her for helping us thrive and grow over time.
Today, Susan’s consulting practice has unusual breadth and depth. She serves a diverse client base from a deep knowledge of board development, best practices for presidents, strategic planning, curricular innovation, and partnering with developers to attract large, useful gifts. As a former staffer and now as a fellow consultant, I am grateful for her support and inspiration.
Dr Michael Horowitz PhD (TCS Education System)
Dr. Susan Resneck Pierce is a tremendous and insightful resource for higher education today and the future. As the headwinds of the sector continue to shift, Pierce is highly relevant and thought-provoking in her counsel to presidents, governing boards, and key leaders alike.
As president of an innovative higher education system comprised of multiple colleges and universities, I have experienced Pierce’s uncanny ability to bring broader perspective and solutions to a wide array of areas and audiences. She has been instrumental in synthesizing and validating lessons learned to drive strategy and enhanced performance at all levels. The impact of her work is clearly evidenced by the enriched strengths of leaders, improvements to shared governance, and institutional effectiveness—all of which ultimately benefit our core constituency and purpose: students.
Engagement with Dr. Susan Resneck Pierce is a distinct and prolific experience that can only serve as a catalyst for success. She is truly a leader among leaders.
Charles F. Kettering III (Kettering University)
Susan Pierce has been working with Kettering University since the Fall of 2011. In my role as Chair of the Board of Trustees at that point and until the Fall of 2014, I worked directly with Susan on a number of occasions and had the opportunity to observe the quality of her work with the Board and with Kettering’s President Bob McMahan. I will leave it to President McMahan to describe her work with him as well as her work with members of his Cabinet and the campus.
What strikes me most is Susan’s versatility, the depth of her understanding of and engagement in Kettering, and the consistent value she has brought to the University. Susan has facilitated two very successful retreats for the Board of Trustees. The first retreat focused on matters of governance (particularly the role of the board in relationship to a new president) and on our strategic direction, setting the stage for what has been an extremely productive board-president relationship and also a widely shared view of the University’s goals and priorities. In the second retreat, Susan provided us with a comprehensive view of what has been happening nationally to private colleges and universities and then led us through an important conversation about our strategic positioning. Clearly, she designed these retreats for Kettering rather than using a “cookie cutter” approach.
As I began my term as Chair, Kettering introduced the new president and Susan was available to discuss and advise me about a wide array matters that came before both the Kettering Board and me during the transition period and beyond. In those conversations, I was struck by her thoughtful analysis, experienced-based insightfulness, directness, and her proactive approach to solving problems. She understood the University’s situation and provided a steady sounding board.
I would recommend her highly.
Philip Mallott (Defiance College)
Elizabeth Wyatt (Sweet Briar College)
Susan Resneck Pierce has worked with me in two very different educational consulting capacities over the past six years. She can lay out an impeccable process for working through a significant issue(s), work diplomatically to include all relevant parties, distill the major strategic issues backed up with useful research, and once the relevant information has been gathered, help lead the players to consensus and conclusion.
While she is extremely knowledgeable, her open and low-key style allows clients across a spectrum of knowledge and expertise from first time college board members to sitting presidents to other educational experts to feel heard and validated. Anyone who has the good fortune to retain her services will benefit from her extraordinary background, knowledge, and problem-solving skills.
Elizabeth Wyatt, Vice Chair, Sweet Briar College Board of Directors and Chair of “The Working Group” charged with overseeing strategic initiatives and positioning.
Dr. Thomas Evans (Carroll College)
Susan Pierce is a “go to” person for Carroll College. The Board of Trustees retained her shortly after I was appointed president in 2012 to advise it and me about the transition, about governance, about effective board performance and how to move forward on strategic planning. In doing so, Susan facilitated two board of trustee retreats, a retreat for members of my Cabinet and a faculty retreat which were important parts of the College being able to come together effectively and very quickly on a new strategic plan. She has clearly earned the respect of all campus constituencies.
Subsequently, Susan has advised me, members of my staff and some trustees about an array of matters. She has been very helpful to our building a successful advancement operation, has given us good guidance about some complicated aspects of our handbook and perhaps most importantly been available to talk with me confidentially about how to address the inevitable problems and even crises that seem to be part of the normal life of a college president.
Those conversations have been extremely helpful to me since Susan brings to them her wealth of experience both as a president and an expert on the presidency.
On a more personal note, Susan has become a trusted friend. We remain in contact beyond matters pertaining to the college. She is someone I know I can count on to give honest and caring advice taking into consideration personal as well as institutional circumstances.
There are few people I know who are as responsive “around the clock” as Susan. Simply put, she is “there for you” when you need her.
James F. Jones Jr (Sweet Briar College)
Susan Resneck Pierce has come to be known in liberal arts college circles as the quintessential expert on where this particular facet of the higher education landscape now finds itself. Dr. Pierce won for herself a well-deserved reputation as a distinguished academic leader well before she was named President of Puget Sound, a post she held for years with acclaim on campus and off.
She is highly knowledgeable, extremely well connected in the United States at the highest levels of education, an adroit writer and speaker, and an invaluable resource for presidents and boards which find themselves, especially in these troubling times, confronted with often intractable dilemmas on all sides.
Her most recent books are among the best guides published within the last forty years. I have recommended them to scores of individuals over the course of the months of my interim stewardship of the presidency at Sweet Briar College. Her guidance, sage counsel, and integrity have benefitted all of us in incalculable ways.
Kathe Rhinesmith (Ohio Wesleyan)
Susan Resneck Pierce first worked with Ohio Wesleyan when she facilitated the very successful presidential search that brought Rock Jones to the campus in July of 2008.
Throughout that process, Susan served as more than a search consultant. She helped the campus and the board understand the landscape of higher education and, even more importantly, helped us first to identify our institutional challenges, opportunities and priorities and then to define the qualities and the experience we wanted our next president to have. Thanks to Susan’s guidance, we got it right.
Because Susan had clearly earned the respect of all campus constituencies, at the conclusion of the search, in my role as chair of the board, I retained her to advise the board and President-Elect Jones about the transition and also to work with the faculty, the administration and the trustees to come to a shared understanding of the best practices of shared governance.
In recent years, I think it fair to say that we at Ohio Wesleyan have continued to benefit from Susan’s vast experience expressed in her many essays and two recent books. We have also appreciated her availability to us to discuss on an ad hoc basis matters both large and small.
In short, it gives me great pleasure to offer an unqualified recommendation of Susan Pierce’s work as a consultant in the arena of higher education. You will enjoy working with her.
Rock Jones (Ohio Wesleyan)
Working with Susan Resneck Pierce is an enriching experience professionally and personally. She engages fully with all constituencies, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience as well as genuine interest in the institutions with which she works and the people who serve those institutions. Personally, she has been a source of invaluable counsel to me on a variety of issues during my tenure here.
I first worked closely with Susan when in 2007 I was a candidate in the Ohio Wesleyan presidential search for which she served as the consultant. Since then, Susan has done additional projects for Ohio Wesleyan. In addition to being available to me as an advisor, Susan has successfully facilitated an important board retreat and worked with the board, the administration and the faculty on shared governance. A few years ago, we participated in a panel for the CIC President’s Institute, which Susan put together and moderated.
In all these roles, Susan has been an active and perceptive listener who inspires the respect of and collaboration among those with whom she works (even when they have opposing views). An experienced president, she truly understands the demands of the presidency and the relationship of the president to the board, the faculty, the staff, the students and the alumni. She also has a keen and informed understanding of the daunting challenges now facing our colleges and universities.
From those understandings, she provides guidance that is sound and creative.
Vincent Maniaci (American International College)
“Doctor Pierce is the real deal. She has a warm yet straightforward and professional manner that endears her to boards and management alike. Her common sense approach often results in an epiphany followed by a lament of “why didn’t we think of that” reaction. Because of her skill at both style and substance on governance and strategic planning issues, she makes the process seem easy and difficult transitions appear seamless. This is what happens when you get a truly good person who is incredibly smart and has deep experience in all facets of higher education. Susan Pierce is the Greek goddess of higher education consulting.”