Tom Snyder has been doing his homework.
In the three months since being named president of Ivy Tech Community College, Snyder has read up on the school's history and held meetings with 4,000 faculty, students and others to gain insight into the school. He's also made decisions about hiring, cost-cutting and student services.
And that was all before classes actually started for Snyder, who didn't officially take over for Gerald Lamkin until July 1.
In March, Ivy Tech trustees picked Snyder, an Anderson native and veteran manufacturing executive, to lead the state's community college system charged not only with educating Hoosiers, but also with training workers for skills employers need today and those they'll need tomorrow.
"We keep training everybody for yesterday's jobs as opposed to tomorrow's," said Steve Beck, an adviser for the new seed-capital fund IVC Equity Partners and a former banker. "While Tom is not an educator, he understands what the market needs and can influence indirectly what that is."
Beck said Snyder demonstrated that ability in Anderson three years ago when he began pushing the idea of using the skills of the local work force to target niche markets like battery and fuel cell technologies.
Snyder got Anderson University and local businesses on board with his ideas. So no one was surprised when he was asked 15 months ago to run Flagship Energy Systems Center in Anderson, a small-business incubator for energy and electronic technologies.
While Snyder's resume lacks jobs in the education sector, the 62-year-old believes his engineering background and years leading manufacturing companies prepare him for the job. Another plus, he said, is his longtime personal connection to youth groups, such as running religious education programs.
"The businesses I've been involved in are about growing talent, just like Ivy Tech," Snyder said. Before running the Flagship Energy center, Snyder was CEO of Anderson-based auto-parts maker Remy International Inc., which in 1994 spun off from General Motors Corp., where he'd spent the previous 20 years.
Those in education agree that Snyder, with his business background, is a logical choice to lead the 105,000-student community college.
"He's a very bright guy and very hard-working," said outgoing Purdue University President Martin Jischke. "He'll figure this all out for himself, but clearly the most important job of any of us in higher education is the education of our students."
Snyder also is decisive, Jischke said, noting that he was instrumental in identifying the focus for the state's newly launched advanced-manufacturing-and-logistics initiative, dubbed Conexus Indiana.
Both men were part of the task force formed nearly a year ago to get the new Central Indiana Corporate Partnership economic-development program off the ground.
Snyder, who spent six years in the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant, is already putting changes in motion at Ivy Tech.
For example, Snyder has hired a marketing executive who will focus on branding and public relations.
"We need to raise the level of awareness of the school," Snyder said. "It's very underreported."
Big changes afoot
He's also recruiting a general counsel and will work to increase the number of full-time faculty. Other changes include a centralized procurement office to cut costs and an updated computer system to better track progress of the school and its students.
"We have no way of tracking students upon their exit," Snyder said. It's hard to know how to retain them if you don't know why they're leaving or where they're going, he said.
Snyder also is creating two new positions. A provost will oversee academic affairs for the school's 23 campuses, and a senior vice president of work force and economic development will work with businesses to identify skills they need and offer training at the workplace and elsewhere.
Carol D'Amico, who resigned a month ago after being passed over for the president's job, previously held the position of executive vice president and was responsible for the two areas Snyder will separate.
She's not going far. CICP in late June appointed D'Amico CEO of Conexus--a role that will keep her in close communication with Ivy Tech leaders.
Snyder praised D'Amico's work at the community college, saying she did a "terrific job" spearheading its strategic planning. "Carol and I continue to talk about how we can work together and in her new position. ... Both of our organizations are key components in the development of our work force."
Snyder said Ivy Tech's new head of work-force development, among other things, will work with companies expanding, downsizing or moving to Indiana to help arm workers with the skills employers need.
For example, Ivy Tech is already working with Nestle Corp. in Anderson to identify the types of workers the Swiss food giant will need for its $359 million plant, and to provide training to fill gaps. The plant, which will make Nesquik and Coffee-mate, will employ nearly 300 when it opens next year.
Ivy Tech has work-force development relationships with 1,500 companies statewide but wants to boost that number to as high as 5,000.
"Without constant training of our work force, the state will not move forward," said Nate Feltman, CEO of Indiana Economic Development Corp. "There are a great number of businesses struggling to get skilled workers."
And while academics and work-force development will become separate areas of focus within Ivy Tech, the school must maintain the relationship between the two, said Bill Wylam, Snyder's boss at General Motors for years, then later his employee at Remy.
"It's not just a bunch of schools around the state," said Wylam, who retired from Remy in 2005. "It's a huge organization and needs someone who can run something of that size."
As helping to spin off Remy from GM, Snyder took the local auto-parts maker global by acquiring companies in Korea, Poland, Brazil and elsewhere, Wylam said.
Wylam doesn't think Snyder was too ambitious--though, like many U.S. autoparts companies, Remy has run into hard times. The company last month said it planned to file a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to cut $360 million in debt.
The move will transfer control to bondholders from existing shareholders, including majority owner Citicorp Venture Capital, which assumed majority ownership of Remy in 2001. Snyder left Remy in January 2006.
"I support and agree with the company's recent statements," Snyder said of Remy's decision to file Chapter 11. He declined to discuss the financial health of his former employer, but said, "With this plan, the company will emerge with its business model in place and be an even stronger player."
To make way for classrooms and other student needs at Ivy Tech's main campus on Fall Creek Parkway, Snyder said he will move the college's administrative offices to an undetermined site, likely between their existing location and the Lawrence campus.
Existing offices will be renovated to create more classrooms and a new student cafeteria, one that holds more than the 50 students the existing lunchroom seats, Snyder said.
Ivy Tech is considering a template, of sorts, for future campuses, and Snyder has appointed the first statewide facilities committee to evaluate future projects.
One project already in progress when Snyder came on board was the $70 million renovation of a former St. Vincent Hospital facility just west of Ivy Tech's landlocked Fall Creek campus.
While most observers agree that improving the school's image includes making it look the part, some are apprehensive about the scope of the projects.
"I have some concerns about the amount of construction that is going on and the notion of a 'fixed campus,' said Anne Shane, vice president of BioCrossroads who worked with Snyder to form Conexus.
Gov. Mitch Daniels last month appointed Shane as an Ivy Tech trustee. She's also vice chairwoman of Ivy Tech's Central Indiana branch.
"Although I think it's important for the Indianapolis campus to improve its physical plant, the college needs to carefully review growing trends in distance, site-based and online learning," she said.
Ivy Tech also needs to focus on keeping students in high school and working with them if they drop out, Shane said.
Snyder, whose mother taught fourth grade at a parochial school in Anderson, couldn't agree more. Creating outreach programs at high schools and boosting Web-based learning are on his list of projects to tackle right away.
And while recruiting full-time faculty will be tough because Ivy Tech competes for talent with more esteemed schools, Snyder believes his plan to improve the school's image will help.
"The school is sort of a teen-ager and is moving into early adulthood," Shane said. "It's always been the poor stepchild of education in central Indiana."