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N.H. businessman recommended to lead Suffolk board

Dina Rudick/Globe staff/file

Pedestrians walked past the facade of Suffolk University Law School on Tremont Street.

By Laura Krantz Globe Staff 

In its search for a new board leader, Suffolk University aimed high, asking a who’s who of Boston power brokers to help steer the troubled school into a new era of stability.

Among those who declined entreaties from board members or university president Margaret McKenna were former advertising mogul and philanthropist Jack Connors; former Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino; and former John Hancock CEO David D’Alessandro, according to people with direct knowledge of the search process.

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Ultimately, trustees were forced to venture outside Boston, to New Hampshire, to find a chairman, and they believe the hunt was worth it. A nominating committee has tapped former insurance executive Robert C. Lamb as the top choice, and the full board is set to vote Friday.

By all accounts, people from all corners of the Boston elite were contacted for the job. Former state attorney general Scott Harshbarger said he told McKenna he would consider being chairman, but was never asked by the board. Former state treasurer Steve Grossman said McKenna also contacted him, but he told her he could not make such a time commitment.

“This would be a very difficult board chairmanship to do and do well,” said Grossman, who formerly chaired the Brandeis University board. “Any woman or man who takes this on has got their work cut out for them.”

Lamb most recently served as the chief executive of Allied International Holdings Inc. from 2011 to January 2016, according to his resume, and also as chief financial officer of FleetBoston Financial Group for two years starting in 2002.

He has no formal connection to Suffolk. He graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and Long Island University.

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Lamb is a former board member of Boston College High School, and ran unsuccessfully for New Hampshire state Senate in 2012.

Both McKenna and board chairman Andrew Meyer said they believe Lamb is an excellent choice.

“He wants to do this as much as we want him to do it,” said Meyer, who has led the board since 2010 and whose term ends Friday.

Meyer has overseen a rocky period in the history of the downtown college, known for its law school. He took the helm just before former president David Sargent’s departure amid criticism about his bloated pay package, which set off a period of instability during which the university saw five presidents in as many years.

The last six months have been especially turbulent, after an attempt by Meyer and several other trustees to oust McKenna plunged the campus into turmoil as McKenna refused to go quietly.

Ultimately, the board reached a deal with McKenna that called for trustees to overhaul their out-of-date bylaws and for Meyer to step down at the end of this term, in exchange for a promise from McKenna to leave as well, as soon as the board completes a search for a new president.

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The terms of trustees Jim Morris, Leo Corcoran, and Dennis Duggan Jr. are also set to expire Friday.

In many ways, the list of those who declined the offer to lead what will be a highly public process of restoring peace hints more at the school’s state of affairs.

Suffolk also faces the threat of a lawsuit from George Regan, the university’s former public relations contractor, and an inquiry by the state attorney general’s office over its governance structure and bylaws. The board is set to review Maura Healey’s findings at a special June board meeting, her spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Some people who were asked about their interest in chairing the board, including Grossman and Harshbarger, were approached by McKenna or her representatives. Others, including D’Alessandro, were approached by people representing the board, according to those with direct knowledge of the search.

Former US attorney Michael Sullivan was considered as a candidate but not chosen, the people said.

Harshbarger said he would have considered serving as chairman or as a board member but was never approached by the board.

Grossman said he would serve as on the board if asked by board members.

“The answer would be emphatically and enthusiastically yes,” he said.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.