Job Hunting

Former Ford CFO Goes Back to School

Two-time Ford finance chief Allan Gilmour is taking over the helm at Wayne State University.
Alix StuartAugust 12, 2010

Former Ford Motor CFO and vice chairman Allan Gilmour has been successful at many things, but retirement may not be one of them. His first attempt was in 1995, when he left Ford after 35 years with the automaker. In 2002, however, he rejoined the floundering company at the behest of then-CEO Bill Ford, taking over as CFO and vice chairman for about three years.

Now, five years after entering his second official retirement, the former finance executive is taking on another new job. On Tuesday Detroit-based Wayne State University announced it had named Gilmour, 76, its interim president.

Gilmour, who holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan, tells CFO he had “almost no connection” with the school or any of its administrators or board members before he was approached about the interim position. He also doesn’t have previous experience working in the academic world.

However, Gilmour’s reputation as a consensus-builder and his many connections in the community make him an ideal candidate, says Richard Bernstein, chair of the school’s board of governors. “Allan is one of those people who are incredibly well respected in our community, and we’re very thankful and blessed that he has accepted the position,” says Bernstein.

For his part, Gilmour says he was attracted to the opportunity because of “the fact that we change lives at a university.” He believes Wayne State’s teaching, research, and community-service efforts “will certainly help” economically depressed Detroit to recover. Gilmour is particularly enthusiastic about the university’s “Techtown,” a business-acceleration program now working with about 150 start-ups.

According to university officials, Wayne State has about 35,000 students and nearly 10,000 staff, including those who work at the five hospitals with which its medical school is affiliated. The mean age of students is 26, with many working and commuting to campus.

While Gilmour’s role is broad, “the finance part is key,” he says, as the school struggles to cope with diminishing state aid and a desire to keep tuition rates low in order “to create access.” According to the school’s budget for fiscal year 2011 posted on its Website, it anticipates $901 million in revenues this coming year, and $898 million in expenses. State aid has shrunk in both relative and absolute size during the past 10 years, the budget shows, with student tuition often having to make up the difference.

The new job officially begins on August 30, with “training,” or lots of meetings, between now and then, says Gilmour. According to press reports, he is not seeking the position at Wayne State on a full-time basis, but could hold it for up to 18 months while the board continues its search for a president.

Gilmour also currently serves on the boards of two public companies, DTE Energy and Universal Technical Institute, and of nonprofit organizations, including the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Henry Ford Health System Foundation.