Columbia, Mo. The "worst-kept secret" around the University of Missouri is now out in the open: Former Sprint Nextel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Gary Forsee is the four-campus system's new president.
In an unanimous vote, university curators on Thursday picked Forsee, 57, to become the university system's 22nd president. He replaces Elson Floyd, who left in April for the top job at Washington State University.
Despite the confidential nature of the eight-month search, Forsee's appointment was widely expected because of leaks to the media. Introducing Forsee at a welcoming reception, the interim president, Gordon Lamb, called the hiring "the world's worst-kept secret."
Forsee, who is on Sprint Nextel's payroll through the end of the year, will begin work for the university on Feb. 18. His three-year contract will pay $400,000 annually, plus up to $100,000 in incentives.
After a 35-year career in the telecommunications industry, Forsee acknowledged that he's about to enter unfamiliar territory with the move to academia. He vowed to "earn that trust and respect" of skeptics, including some faculty members who question his qualifications.
"I come into this with a lot to learn," he said. "I have to go back to school, if you will. ... The burden of proof falls on the new guy."
Board Chairman Don Walsworth, a successful businessman who owns a global publishing company, said he first reached out to Forsee within days of Floyd's December 2006 announcement that he was leaving Columbia.
Forsee said he only seriously considered the job after leaving Sprint Nextel in October.
The Kansas City resident was ousted as chairman, president and CEO of the company, the nation's third-largest wireless carrier. He resigned under pressure from board members and shareholders unhappy with the company's plummeting stock price and a sizable loss of customers since the 2005 merger of Sprint and Nextel.