New board will oversee Core Lab but needs world-renowned manager
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS — David H. Murdock will share power with Duke University and the University of North Carolina system on a newly formed board of directors that will oversee the Core Lab at the N.C. Research Campus.
Murdock and eight high-profile scientists and university administrators make up the board of directors for the David H. Murdock Research Institute, a nonprofit foundation established by Murdock with a $150 million gift to outfit the Core Lab.
Each board member has one vote, including Murdock, the billionaire Dole Food Co. owner who is building the $1.5 billion research campus in downtown Kannapolis.
Three powerful groups — Duke, the UNC system and Murdock’s team — will have equal representation on the board, with three seats each.
The board’s top priority is to hire a scientist with international credentials to manage the Core Lab, the campus centerpiece scheduled to open in just five months.
Board President Dr. Steve Leath, who also serves as vice president for research for the UNC system, acknowledged a delay in hiring a Core Lab manager because the board membership was in flux.
“It is not time to panic,” Leath said. “Hiring someone is a very high priority.”
A Core Lab manager, who will run day-to-day operations for one of the most sophisticated life sciences labs in the world, still could be in place by May, Leath said.
Leath signed a contract Wednesday with Korn/Ferry International, the world’s largest executive search firm. He expects the firm to deliver the names of three candidates within 45 days.
The candidates must “have an international reputation in their field of science” and a stellar track record of managing a similar big laboratory, Leath said.
The Core Lab board will conduct the final interviews.
The board turned to Korn/Ferry after ending its relationship with RTI International, a scientific institute in Research Triangle Park once presumed to be the Core Lab manager.
RTI did extensive work at the research campus last year, consulting with Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University on lab layout, equipment and information-technology services.
“We have completed a year-long project to support the design and upfit of the Core Lab,” RTI spokesperson Patrick Gibbons told the Post. “We feel very good about that.”
While RTI was “very helpful in getting us off the ground,” the board has decided to go it alone, Leath said.
“It is expensive to go through a third party,” he said. “It is more efficient and more cost effective to do it ourselves, and we thought the lab could be more responsive to the board’s wishes without that extra layer.”
Although Gibbons said RTI plans to continue to provide scientific and technical assistance as needed, the institute has closed its office in Cannon Village, the first tenant casualty at the Research Campus.
The David H. Murdock Research Institute has moved into the space.
The makeup of the institute’s board of directors has been negotiated behind closed doors for months. Other than Murdock, Leath would not confirm the names of board members Wednesday, saying one seat remained in question.
The Post has previously reported that Dr. Rob Califf, director of the Duke Translation Medicine Institute, is on the board, and it is widely known that Dr. Andrew Conrad, Murdock’s friend and science adviser, is a board member.
The board could not function effectively until about two months ago when it finally reached a quorum, Leath said.
“Mr. Murdock and Duke have been kind of slow to make decisions,” Leath said.
“They each had a couple choices of who they wanted as their third member.
They were internal decisions, not board decisions.”
Known on campus as DHMRI, Murdock’s nonprofit institute currently has one employee — Leath. That explains the need to hire the international search firm, he said.
“DHMRI right now consists of me,” said Leath, who has another full-time job with the UNC system. “I don’t have the time and resources to search the world for the best person like these people do.”
He has hired consultants and hopes to have an administrative assistant in the Kannapolis office later this month, he said.
People who want to work for Murdock’s institute can view job postings at www.DHMRI.org when the Web site comes online in about 10 days, Leath said.
The institute will move to the third floor of the Core Lab building when it opens this summer.