Vice President for Human Resources

Vice President for Human Resources

Northwestern University

Evanston-Chicago-Doha, US   |   June 12, 2019

Northwestern University seeks a collaborative and proven leader to serve as Vice President for Human Resources (VPHR). Reporting directly to the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance, the VPHR has responsibility for the management and operation of Northwestern University’s Office of Human Resources and for providing overall strategic leadership for human resources at Northwestern. With a highly collaborative leadership team and an engaged and knowledgeable staff, the incoming VPHR will drive the implementation of HR strategies and initiatives that align with Northwestern’s mission, and will position the institution as an employer of choice by instituting best practices from within the field of human resources and organizational development.

About Northwestern University:

Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is a globally recognized private research university committed to excellent teaching, innovative research, and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community. The University has three primary campuses in Evanston, Chicago, and Doha, Qatar.  Northwestern also has academic and administrative sites in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City.

The University fulfills its teaching, research and service mission through twelve schools which enroll 16,700 FTE in bachelor’s, master’s, PhD and professional education programs. Northwestern is recognized both nationally and internationally for the quality of its educational programs at all levels. In September 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked Northwestern University tenth (tied) among top national universities, and has consistently ranked the University’s undergraduate programs among the best in the country. In its most recent assessment of doctoral programs in 2010, the National Research Council ranked five Northwestern doctoral programs in the top 10 percent nationally. In April 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked the Kellogg School of Management fourth (tied) in its annual survey of the best graduate schools of business in the nation; Kellogg’s Executive MBA program was ranked third. In addition, Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law was ranked eleventh (tied) in legal programs nationally, and the Feinberg School of Medicine was ranked twentieth among research intensive medical programs.

The undergraduate schools are comprised of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Education and Social Policy, Journalism, Music and Communication, and a separate undergraduate campus in Doha, Qatar. The Graduate School oversees PhD education across all schools.  Professional education is undertaken by the Kellogg School of Management, the Pritzker School of Law, and the Feinberg School of Medicine. The University also has a School of Professional Studies.

The University has an operating budget of approximately $2.5 billion and total endowed and invested funds of $11.3 billion. Northwestern employs approximately 3,800 faculty and approximately 7,800 full and part-time administrative staff. Three hundred  staff members participate in three unions, principally maintenance and tradespeople. There is also a more recently formed union representing University police officers.

The University is a member of the Big Ten Athletic Conference and Division I NCAA sports.

The two main campuses are situated along Lake Michigan’s lakefront.  The Chicago campus, located between the Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan, offers outstanding views and is within walking distance of many of the city’s main attractions.  The Evanston campus, just 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, sits among charming residential neighborhoods, parks, beaches, and bike trails.

Evanston is a quintessential college town with a vibrant group of restaurants, cafés, shops, and entertainment a few blocks from the campus.  Evanston is a diverse community with successful K-12 school systems (two districts) as well as numerous private school options.  Getting to and around Evanston is easy with a multitude of public and private transportation options, including to and from the City of Chicago.

With Lake Michigan to the east, Evanston residents are active both indoors and out, fully utilizing the phenomenal system of parks and recreation areas, access to which goes through Northwestern’s Evanston campus.  With Chicago next door, one can easily take advantage of the music, theatre, museums, sports, and entertainment of a world-class city.  With Northwestern’s participation in the Big Ten athletic conference, and its proximity to Chicago’s many professional teams, this area is rich in opportunities to participate in athletic endeavors at many levels.

The Context

Northwestern University undertook an ambitious capital expansion program in 2015 with the Board of Trustees approving a plan of nearly $2 billion in new construction and renovation projects, supported by its  WE WILL campaign. This expansion approximately tripled the University’s normal annual capital program expenditures.  In the fifth year of this program, the University has been in a period of capital absorption, with a commensurate focus on cost-effective strategies.

While the University’s overall financial condition is very strong, the absorption of this capital expansion has put pressure on the University’s operating margin. The University has a historical track record of balanced operating budgets and maintains a AAA credit rating, but is in the midst of taking careful actions to restore balanced operating performance.  In the summer of 2018, staff reductions were made in a number of areas, including Human Resources, in response to this mandate.  It is anticipated that additional cost containment strategies will need to be applied in order to meet a Board of Trustees-directed goal of balanced operating results by FY 2021.

The Human Resources VP must be committed to responsible partnership with the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance in fulfilling this financial management mandate, in a manner that is fully transparent and respectful of the inherent tensions between short-term and long-term operating and capital goals.

To learn more about Northwestern University, visit:

University Leadership:

Morton O. Schapiro, President

Morton O. Schapiro was elected President of Northwestern University on December 16, 2008. He took office on September 1, 2009. He is a Professor of Economics in Northwestern’s Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and also holds appointments in Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the School of Education and Social Policy.

Jonathan Holloway, Provost

Jonathan Holloway was appointed Provost of Northwestern University effective July 1, 2017. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Holloway was Dean of Yale College and Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies.

Craig A. Johnson, Senior Vice President for Business and Finance

Craig Johnson was appointed Senior Vice President for Business and Finance for Northwestern University effective September 25, 2018.

Mr. Johnson has served more than 18 years at Northwestern within the central budget office, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and now central administration. In his role as Senior Vice President, he collaborates with Provost Jonathan Holloway to direct the University’s business and financial operations, managing an annual operating budget of $2.5 billion and sponsored research activity of approximately $700 million.

The Opportunity:

The Vice President for Human Resources is responsible for comprehensive and strategic leadership in all aspects of the human resources function for the university. The incoming VPHR will join a senior leadership team as a collaborative partner providing solutions and guidance as the organization continues to enhance service orientation, technological innovation, and efficient deployment of resources toward the university’s strategy.

The VPHR will foster an environment within human resources of strategic thinking and planning, consulting with users and integrating human resources throughout the university to support and build on the highest qualities of the faculty and staff. Working with the Senior VP, the VPHR will assess all human resource functions and systems to maximize the efficiency of resource allocation.

This is an exciting position for a talented human resource professional who wishes to make a significant contribution to strengthening the quality of services and processes through which the university recruits and retains the best faculty, administrators, and staff. The VPHR will be a credible and influential leader, mentor, and developer of strong cross-functional teams; will demonstrate a commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment; and will maintain a record of success in managing large scale organizational change.

In 2017 Northwestern undertook a staff engagement survey which identified both areas of strength according to Northwestern employees (reputation, rewards and recognition, benefits) and identified areas of opportunity (career development, technology and diversity and inclusion). With campus partners including the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council (NUSAC); and working groups of business officers and human resource professionals across campus, the VPHR works collaboratively to address staff engagement and satisfaction across a highly complex, matrixed organization.

While Human Resources is centralized at Northwestern, a number of the larger academic and administrative units within the university have independent administrative functions, some of which include a human resources component. Further developing and optimizing the levels of service experienced across campus will be a priority for the incoming VPHR.

The VPHR will lead an organization of 97 individuals, with 5 current direct reports covering the areas of Benefits, HR Operations, Payroll & Tax, Talent Acquisition, HR Business Partners, Employee/Labor  Relations, Compensation, Learning and Organizational Development, and joint oversight to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access in the  Office of Equity. The unit has a current operating budget of $8.8 million. The unit has oversight over benefit program design and administration, with a budget of $300 million.

The VPHR will work collaboratively with the deans and the provost’s staff on faculty onboarding and support through a comprehensive understanding of the unique needs of the different faculty/researcher roles at Northwestern. As a partner with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and in close collaboration with unit directors and managers creating and managing Diversity and Inclusion Action Plans, the VPHR will serve as a thought leader and driver for fostering a community that proactively welcomes and honors all its members.

Read more about Northwestern Human Resources at

Initial priorities for the individual in this role are:

  • Assess all human resource functions and systems, determining whether resource expenditures and utilization are adequate and appropriate. Balance the priorities and be open to thoughtfully redesigning functions and processes.
  • Assess and create, as necessary, improved data analytics around work force metrics that can assist in the design and implementation of more effective compensation and benefits for faculty and staff, as well as more effective service delivery.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the University’s benefit programs, including options for creative health insurance partnerships with Northwestern Medicine, the affiliated partner of Northwestern University.
  • Develop an affordable, phased approach to renew and upgrade the University’s information technology platform for its human resources functions. The current system platforms (Peoplesoft 9.2) are reaching end of life, and the University expects funding capacity to be available within three years (FY 2022) to begin the upgrade process. Determination of priorities, renewal approach and implementation plan in conjunction with the University’s technology organization will be a critical part of this process.
  • Strengthen a competent Office of Human Resources, with a focus on operational effectiveness and stakeholder satisfaction while demonstrating the highest standards of ethics and integrity.
  • Evaluate the coordination of human resource services for faculty and all other academic rank personnel with the University’s Office of the Provost and school representatives to assure the most appropriate organization of service delivery to assist in the recruitment and retention of faculty and all other academic rank personnel.
  • Participate in the evaluation of relocation options for current HR functions which are currently in disparate locations on the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

Candidate Profile:

The successful candidate will have extensive human resources leadership experience at an executive level with a track record of aligning organizational structure to optimal service objectives of the organization while leading a team to deliver on these goals. The next VPHR will lead by example in demonstrating trust, open communication, compassion, enthusiasm, and encouragement.

The Human Resources VP will have a servant-leader focus in a University community which is highly distributed in terms of stakeholders, and will have a demonstrated teamwork orientation in a shared governance model.  Higher education experience is preferred, but not essential.  Rather, demonstrated experience in comparable complex, service intensive environments is essential.

In addition, the incoming VPHR will possess many of the following abilities, attributes, and experiences:

  • Ability to think creatively and strategically, to build consensus and collaborate with others, and to articulate and implement human resources programs that reflect organizational goals;
  • Strong analytical and critical thinking skills, and the ability to organize, analyze, summarize, and effectively tailor and present initiatives to a diverse group of constituents;
  • Demonstrated track record leading, implementing, and communicating large-scale change management initiatives in complex organizations;
  • Experience with enterprise-wide administrative systems implementations and analyzing business processes;
  • Experience leading system-wide and expansive talent recruitment and retention initiatives. Success in building a “best in class” talent management and development process which actively invests in high-potential talent identified through performance management and succession planning process;
  • A record of attracting, mentoring and retaining high-quality talent and building empowered teams from ambitious, individual contributors;
  • Unparalleled personal integrity, ethics, and conduct.

A bachelor’s degree is required, and a master’s or other advanced degree is preferred. Also required is a significant tenure of progressively responsible human resources management and leadership experience, with time spent at the senior management or executive level, in an academic or similarly complex organization. Final candidates will be required to successfully complete a background check.


Northwestern University has engaged Koya Leadership Partners to help in this hire. Please submit a compelling cover letter and resume to Liz Neumann, Amy Sugin, and Malissa Brennan here.

Northwestern University is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive academic global community; as an EEO/AA employer, Northwestern considers applicants for employment without regard to, and does not discriminate on the basis of, gender, race, protected veteran status, disability, or any other legally protected status.

About Koya Leadership Partners:

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit