Magis Operational Excellence Program Launching

I write today to share information about a new initiative that we are launching called the Magis Operational Excellence Program. This new program will substantially fulfill the fifth initiative of Magis, our new strategic plan: “Fostering a Culture of Excellence, Effectiveness, and Efficiency Deeply Rooted in Our Institutional Mission and Catholic, Jesuit Values.”

At this moment in our history, it is critical that we focus our limited resources on achieving our highest aspirations, while continuing to further our ability to carry out our mission and core purposes. To ensure that we achieve our shared vision of becoming one of the world’s preeminent Jesuit research universities, our new strategic plan calls us to:

  • review our existing practices,
  • establish and sustain fiscally positive operations,
  • and — to the extent possible — align our systems with best practices for higher education, particularly among peer and aspirant institutions.   

To lead what is expected to be a multi-year program, I have convened an 18-member steering committee that is being co-chaired by Provost Nancy Brickhouse and CFO David Heimburger. Associate Professor and Consulting Practice Director Eric Armbrecht in the Center for Outcomes Research (SLUCOR), and Human Resources VP Mickey Luna are serving as project coordinators. Other committee members are: 

  • Steve Buckner, interim dean of Parks College and professor of chemistry
  • Ron Clark, vice president of finance for the Student Government Association
  • Ruth Evans, professor of English
  • David Grabe, assistant vice president and controller
  • Mark Higgins, dean of the John Cook School of Business
  • Bill Kauffman, vice president and general counsel
  • Norma Metheny, professor and associate dean of the School of Nursing
  • Lauren Schwarz, assistant professor of psychiatry    
  • Jonathan Smith, special assistant to the president for diversity and community engagement
  • April Trees, associate professor and chair of the department of communication
  • Jason Turner, assistant professor of health management and policy
  • Gary Whitworth, associate dean for finance of the School of Medicine
  • Mardell Wilson, dean of Doisy College of Health Sciences
  • Cyn Wise, corresponding secretary of the Staff Advisory Committee Executive Board 

The Magis Operational Excellence Program is expected to identify opportunities for cost savings and revenue growth that will help fund our many strategic priorities. This includes having a more profound impact on our students by enhancing the transformative educational experience that we offer, as well as retaining and attracting the finest educators, scholars and researchers.  

In addition, the Magis Operational Excellence Program will help address our budget challenges in a more effective way. For the past several years, costs have risen while revenues remained flat, an unsustainable trend that — if left unchecked — will lead to future shortfalls. To balance this year’s budget, we relied on short-term solutions, including increased endowment spending, cuts in general expenses and a position-control initiative. More short-term fixes will be needed for FY17, and I have engaged the 100-member President’s Advisory Council to review options.

However, if we aspire to be the kind of innovative and entrepreneurial institution envisioned in our strategic plan, we cannot continue to deal with our budget challenges one year at a time. That is why we are beginning with an in-depth, comprehensive operational opportunity assessment that will involve every division and academic unit of the University, including SLU Madrid and select administrative components of SLUCare.

Such an extensive review of our operations has never taken place at our University. Given the magnitude of this effort, we recently began seeking a partner to work with us to support the Magis Operational Excellence Program. After talking with several other research universities and following a rigorous interview process, we decided to engage Bain & Company, a consulting firm with extensive higher education experience.

Bain will provide a comprehensive fact base to me and the Steering Committee, highlighting potential operational efficiencies, and will also evaluate our current staffing levels and reporting structures. While it is too early to know what adjustments will be considered by the Steering Committee and recommended to me, it is important for you to know that Bain is in a support role, and any decisions regarding the institution, including personnel, will be taken by our University leadership. Potential changes to our organizational structure will be considered in a manner consistent with our mission and values.

Change is not always easy. Our partner Bain has made it clear that those directly affected by change must help define and lead those efforts. I completely agree. Each of you has an important part to play in the success of the Magis Operational Excellence Program. There will be many opportunities for you to participate in the process, starting with an introductory town hall meeting from 9-10 a.m. Tuesday, February 23, in the St. Louis Room of Busch Student Center.

As we launch this initiative, I want to emphasize that the Magis Operational Excellence Program is not the product of a desire solely to improve the bottom line. Instead, it is intended to be transformational, putting SLU in the best possible position to follow the bold path laid out by our strategic plan. As its name suggests, the heart of Magis is our desire to do more and to be more for the many stakeholders we serve, especially our talented and committed students.

Sincerely,

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
President