Mason names sixth university president: Ángel Cabrera

Dr. Ángel Cabrera, sitting president of Thunderbird School of Global Management, receives a bag of Mason goodies from President Alan Merten. (Dakota Cunningham)

George Mason University has named its next university president: Ángel Cabrera.

Cabrera, 44, the sitting president and a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, will succeed current university president, Alan Merten, who after 16 year’s will step down from the university’s top administrator position in the summer of 2012. The Board of Visitors voted unanimously to approve the Presidential Search Committee’s selection of Cabrera in a special meeting Thursday morning at the Mason Inn.

"This is unusual, but I'm speechless," said Cabrera in his first remarks after the vote. "I'm deeply honored."

Cabrera will become the university's sixth president, effective July 2012, leaving Thunderbird’s presidency after 8 years at the graduate level-only school focused on international business.

Cabrera became president of Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2004. (Dakota Cunningham)
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At a press conference following the BOV vote and a subsequent interview, Cabrera said he will spend the next six months “learning and listening” as he transitions out of Thunderbird and begins to prepare to take over a rapidly growing undergraduate and graduate-level institution with international interests—one that has added campuses and programs and grown from 24,000 students when Merten took over to more than 30,000 students today.

“There are obviously things that are different and things that I’m going to have to learn …but there are lots of things that are similar, too,” said Cabrera, when asked about the difference in leading two different types of schools.

“Ángel has the approach, intelligence, and energy level for taking Mason the next step forward,” said Merten at the press conference.

Approximately 400 applicants or names were brought to the Presidential Search Committee, according to Merten’s Chief of Staff Tom Hennessey. The committee – made up of four faculty members, one staff member, the Student Government president, and multiple members of the BOV – reviewed the applicants in what became a controversial closed process that some Faculty Senators say went against a binding Faculty Handbook. The process did not permit opportunities for general faculty to provide feedback on the final candidates. General staff and students also did not have the same opportunity.

“We did outreach to faculty as much as we could,” said Lovey Hammel, the chair of the search committee and member of the Board of Visitors.

Prior to taking the presidency at Thunderbird, Cabrera served as a professor and dean at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, from 1998 to 2004. He also has many accolades in management, leadership and international business. Among recent accomplishments: the Aspen Institute named him a Crown Fellow in 2008, the United Nations asked him to chair an international task force to develop “Principles for Responsible Management” in 2007, and Business Week named him one of the 25 “Stars of Europe” in 2004.

“We needed a scholar and a leader, someone who has the record of academic experience, and the record of success. Someone with high energy and originality,” said BOV Rector Ernst Volgenau at the press conference.  “…Fortunately all of these qualities are possessed by Dr. Ángel Cabrera.”

Members of the Faculty Senate were scheduled to meet Sunday with the final candidate or candidates for the presidency, according to Hammel. An announcement about the BOV’s special vote was posted to its website Monday.

While Cabrera describes the quick turnaround of the decision as “nuts” and leaving the idea of leaving Thunderbird as “very emotional,” he said he is excited to begin.

“I love what [Mason] stands for,” said Cabrera. “I see this as a place that is more interested in perhaps challenging the status quo than protecting or defending the status quo.”

Cabrera and his wife Elizabeth, an organizational psychologist, have two children. The next time Cabrera will make a public appearance at Mason has yet to be determined, said Chief of Staff Tom Hennessey.

Merten will continue to serve as the university’s president until June 30, 2012. He and his wife Sally are expected to remain active in the Mason community following his step down, with Merten serving in the capacity of President Emeritus.

Thunderbird released a statement Thursday morning congratulating Cabrera on his new position and commenting on the “indelible mark” he has left upon the Glendale, Arizona school of international business. The statement, signed from Ann Iverson, chair of the school’s Board of Trustees, said the transition at Thunderbird will be managed by its Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. It notes the process is “underway” and that the Trustees plan to identify candidates during the first quarter of 2012.

Frank Neville, vice president of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Thunderbird, said announcements like these are “always a surprise,” but that he understands Mason’s move to pick Cabrera.

“[Cabrera] has done such a great job here, and [it’s] certainly no surprise that he is in demand.”

Thunderbird’s commencement for its graduating MBA class is tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 16.

More updates to follow.

10:44 a.m. Posted to Facebook: 22 photos from the press conference and a quick Student Media roundtable with the newly-selected university president.

1:51 p.m. The post was updated with a full story.

3:26 p.m. Posted on C2M: Thunderbird's statement on Cabrera's move to Mason

5:30 p.m. Posted on C2M: Cabrera sends first Mason tweet... more to come?

5:43 p.m. Connect2Mason staff is currently working on editing down video from the morning. More short posts with video clips from our interview with the Cabrera are on the way.

9:54 p.m. Posted to C2M and YouTube: Footage of Cabrera's first Mason press conference

11:42 p.m. Posted to C2M and YouTube: Cabrera fields 'the football question'

3:19 p.m., Dec. 16 We've begun to slowly publish more clips from our interview with Cabrera, as final schedules allow. One was added to our piece on Cabrera and his wife Elizabeth's use of Twitter, and discusses "the best soccer team in the world" and "in the history of the sport," as well as a little on his family moving east.

1:04 p.m. Dec. 19 Posted to C2M via WGMU: Audio of quick thoughts from Merten on the selection of Cabrera 

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