LITE interim CEO Henry Florsheim (right) and UL vice president Bob Stewart at last week’s board of commissioners meeting
Photo by Isabel LaSala
Job description: Oversee a nascent, $27 million state-of-the-art 3-D visualization center and be able to effectively communicate its capabilities to potential business clients, academic researchers and political partners. Manage business and research initiatives with a limited support staff and a dwindling budget.
It’s a tall order, but this is likely to be exactly what the next chief executive officer of the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise will be facing. LITE is preparing to launch a national search for its first official CEO.
Last week, LITE’s Board of Commissioners approved a job ad for the position, which is still subject to some editing by the CEO search committee. The ad states that “the successful candidate will have significant experience with managing a technology enterprise. The candidate must be a team builder with strong communication skills. Experience working with political entities, academic institutions and private enterprises will be considered a plus. Salary and benefits are commensurate with experience. All applications submitted by Feb. 15, 2009 will be considered.”
Bradd Clark, LITE’s board chairman, says that while not required, the right candidate should have either a doctorate or MBA. The search committee is made up of commissioners Clark and Jim Prince, as well as LITE Creative Director Marty Altman, UL Dean of Engineering Mark Zappi and another member yet to be appointed by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.
The CEO’s duties were previously handled by Carolina Cruz. Heavily recruited away from Iowa State University by UL to help lead LITE, Cruz has served in a dual role as both LITE’s executive director and UL’s chief scientist for the past three years.
But on Nov. 19, Cruz resigned from the executive director’s position, and is now focusing solely on her academic research duties. LITE Chief Operating Officer Henry Florsheim was named interim CEO. Clark says that Cruz’s tenure as director was always intended to be temporary and that her stepping down had been discussed for some time. “We’ve now grown to the point where that’s a full-time position,” he says. Cruz, traveling in Spain, could not be reached for comment.
While Cruz’s job duties may have changed, UL confirms her salary has not. Neither Clark nor UL could provide specifics on Cruz’s salary and benefits, but Cruz’s total compensation package appears to be worth upwards of $250,000 annually, making her UL’s highest paid employee, even above UL President Joseph Savoie. Her base salary is approximately $200,000, according to UL spokeswoman Julie Dronet-Simon. She also receives about $35,000 for a joint endowed chair with the departments of electrical and computer engineering and pays a reduced rental rate at a university-owned house.
LITE is managed through a partnership between local and state government, the university, and LEDA. When it first opened, the center was highly touted as a 21st century economic development engine, the potential of which has yet to be fully realized. The feature component of the center is a super-computer-powered 3-D visualization cave. The cave takes almost any form of complex data and turns it into an immersive 3-D environment that can easily be studied and manipulated. The technology has the potential to help facilitate anything from architectural planning to complex medical procedures to oil and gas drilling plans.
“Our biggest challenge is making sure that we’re headed in the direction of helping businesses do things better,” says interim CEO Florsheim, “and we’re starting to do that now.” Florsheim’s annual salary is $104,000, but he’s in negotiations with Clark for a salary increase to handle the new responsibilities temporarily. He says he hasn’t decided if he will apply for the CEO job.
Prior to joining LITE in January, Florsheim served for two years as vice president of LEDA. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northeast Louisiana University and is currently pursuing an MBA at UL.
Delivering economic development results will clearly be a priority for the new CEO. A recent audit of LITE shows that approximately 85 percent of its revenues are obtained from UL — which pays for its own research and other operations in the building — and state grants. The remaining 15 percent represents the revenue LITE has generated from renting out office space and access to its visualization technologies to private businesses.
Clark says one of the first orders of business for the new CEO should be to develop a business plan that will lay out private industry revenue objectives and other quantifiable goals. “I want to be able to stand before our state Legislature and say, ‘This is what we’ve done.’ And our business plans needs to include the kinds of things that people, certainly legislators, would understand as, ‘Yeah, OK, I see what you’re doing.’ That’s something I think we definitely need.’”
The Legislature is certainly weighing heavily on the minds of LITE’s board right now. Following last week’s announcement of across the board cuts to higher education, the LITE Center itself is awaiting word on what could be a 7 to 8 percent budget hit. Last week, the board directed Florsheim to begin preparing for the likely cuts — something Clark says come at an unfortunate time. He notes that LITE is still underfunded and understaffed compared to similar facilities at other universities.
“We would argue that it would be a huge mistake,” Clark says, “because [LITE] is an economic development engine which would counter the direction the economy seems to be taking at the moment. So it’s worse than cutting your nose off to spite your face; it’s something even more painful.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.