Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Robert Twilley, UL’s new VP of Research and interim CEO of LITE, inspires confidence from his peers despite the tough road ahead.
By Nathan Stubbs
When he was announced as the new interim CEO of Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, Robert Twilley was busy looking at coastal restoration and water management systems in the Netherlands, part of a congressional delegation sent there to explore Dutch strategies that could possibly be adapted along the Gulf Coast. As a coastal scientist, Twilley may at first seem like an illogical choice to lead LITE, which specializes in immersive visualization technologies, but the move is seen as a natural fit by many of those who have spent time around Twilley since his return to Lafayette this past fall when he was hired as UL’s vice president of research.
“Dr. Twilley has told me that he sees LITE as a critical resource for both the university and the community,” writes UL Dean of Science and LITE Commissioner Bradd Clark in an email to The Independent Weekly. “He has made it crystal clear that he wants LITE to be successful. So it doesn’t surprise me that this man of high energy wants to shepherd LITE until we obtain a new and permanent CEO.”
“Dr. Twilley was an ideal choice for the position of interim CEO,” adds fellow LITE Commissioner Tom Cox, president of Golfballs.com. “My sense is that he accepted because it will allow him to align and prioritize the research component of LITE within the context of the broader UL research agenda.”
Those who have followed Twilley’s career may find it even less surprising he is tackling LITE head-on. Twilley comes to UL from LSU where he served as vice chancellor in the Office of Research and Economic Development and director of its Shell Coastal Environmental Modeling Lab and Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute. Prior to that, Twilley was at UL, where he founded the Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology in 1999 and served as its director until 2004. Post-Katrina, Twilley was part of the Louisiana Speaks long-term planning initiative of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.
Twilley earned his Ph.D. in systems ecology from the University of Florida, where he studied under renowned professor Howard T. Odum. Odum founded Florida’s Center for Wetlands and pioneered studies on ecological “budgets” or energy models. “When you train as a systems ecologist, a lot of your training is in economics,” Twilley says. “Yes, I’m a coastal scientist, but systems ecology training has always put me on the fringe of where environmental systems and economic systems have to coincide.”
Twilley’s philosophy as both VP of research and interim CEO at LITE focuses on transferring the university’s wealth of ideas and know-how into marketable services and businesses. “I’ve dealt quite a bit in the last 10 years on how to build research centers,” Twilley says, “and the role of the university, and I’ll tell you, LITE is a gold mine. But at the same time it’s an experiment. It really represents where universities are moving toward as far as marketing their knowledge. They call it commercialization of knowledge from universities out into the business world.”
Twilley cites North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Stanford Research Park as being among the new models universities are trying to emulate in having their institutions grow new businesses in the community. “As a vice president of research, you do think of return on investment,” Twilley says, “and that’s what universities are being challenged to demonstrate. And when the LITE CEO position became open it was an opportunity for me to get more engaged in an institution that is at the cusp of being able to move knowledge into the market. That’s what LITE needs to do.”
Currently, LITE is collecting more than two-thirds of its $3.8 million annual budget from public funding sources as opposed to income, a revenue ratio Twilley would like to see reversed. Among his first orders of business as CEO, Twilley formed a management council at the center, consisting of himself, Chief Operating Officer Monica Laverne, Creative Director Marty Altman, Technical Manager Thomas McPoyle, Content Manager Scott Malo and Facility Manager Madeline Broussard. The group has been reviewing LITE’s operations and a recently drafted business plan. Twilley also ordered a potential peer review list that identified 25 institutions with services similar to LITE to use for comparative analysis. Also key for Twilley is finding the next CEO to implement LITE’s strategic vision.
Last month, LITE’s board of commissioners voted to give Twilley and board Chairman Robert Veazey the authority to select a firm to assist with the CEO search. Twilley says he, Veazey and LITE legal counsel Steve Oats have received estimates on the cost of hiring a search firm and are now trying to weigh that against other budgetary pressures. “The three of us are moving forward formulating a very clear plan with a budget that we can handle and then go to search committee,” Twilley says. “The biggest thing we’re struggling with now is the budget, to fund it.”
Last year, the state slashed its funding for LITE by 10 percent. Higher education officials have since been put on notice to expect more cuts in 2011. “We will definitely have a third party to help manage the search,” Twilley says, “so that it is an independent process. The level of involvement of that third party, as to how many services they actually provide, is what we’re fine tuning right now.”
Budget constraints may also factor into the next CEO’s salary, though Twilley says he doesn’t want that to limit the search and plans to push for hiring the best person for the job. (Twilley is not taking an additional salary for serving as LITE’s interim CEO; as VP of research, his annual salary is $224,000). “We certainly have to be competitive,” he says of the CEO position, which he hopes to have filled and on the job by the end of 2011, “and my experience doing this is salary is always commensurate with experience and what that person could provide. If you really find someone that you really think is the match and you really want them, you get the parties that are supporting LITE and see [what can be funded].”
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)