LeftonGroup to offer higher-education consulting

President Lester Lefton declines to comment when asked about his post-retirement plans, which include LeftonGroup, at a meet-and-greet event for president-elect Beverly Warren on Jan. 8 in the Schwebel Room.

Madeleine Winer

Six months before retirement, Kent State President Lester Lefton is set to offer his expertise elsewhere.

As the presidential search committee has narrowed down candidates for the top job at Kent State, the current president has established post-retirement plans: consulting clients in higher education issues.

The LeftonGroup, a consulting firm that includes some Kent State administrators, was created in late July last year, and Lefton is listed as the registrant, according to domain information.

The site was taken down Dec. 11 after a test run, said university spokesman Eric Mansfield.

“The website was activated as a trial run for an opportunity that he sees after he retires and leaves the university,” Mansfield said. “It’s not unusual for many companies to test a website and have other people look at it and work on it for the future.”

The 14 consultants who will aid Lefton in his post-retirement venture have worked with him at Kent State, during his time as provost at Tulane University and at George Washington University, where he served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

According to The LeftonGroup’s website, the firm will provide both public and private universities executive team building, strategic visioning, advising on legal issues, diversity, executive coaching and presidential transition services among others.

Joel Nielsen, director of athletics at Kent State and member of the consulting group, declined to comment on his involvement in the consultant group. Other Kent State administrators listed as consultants for the group are Eugene Finn, vice president of institutional advancement, and Charlene Reed, Chief of Staff and secretary to the Board of Trustees.

Katie Koestner, a consultant for the LeftonGroup, said Lefton approached her about the opportunity to join as a consultant in November. Koestner is the first date rape victim to publicly speak out about being raped in 1990. Koestner helped to write the “Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights” into law in 1992.

She said Lefton told her he was retiring and wanted to put together a team of experts in particular areas of higher education. Lefton told her he would need her services on an “as-needed basis.”

LeftonGroup members

Dennis Blumer, first and past vice president of general counsel at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Counsel at Arent Fox in Washington D.C.
Seth Briskin, attorney at Meyers, Roman, Friedman & Lewis in Cleveland
Robert Chernak, retired senior vice provost and senior president emeritus president and associate professor of higher education administration
Peter Cooper, higher education professional
Gene Finn, vice president of institutional advancement at Kent State
Sandra Harbrecht, former chair of the board of trustees at Kent State and President and CEO of of Paul Werth Associates
Katie Koestner, executive director of Campus Outreach Services ad board president of Take Back the Night Foundation
Ana M. Lopez, director of the Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute at Tulane University and Senior associate provost and associate professor of communication
Joel Nielsen, director of athletics at Kent State
Gerald Nilsson-Weiskott, licensed psychologist and principal staff member at consulting firm Leadership Development Group
Susan Nilsson-Weiskott, licensed psychologist and principal staff member at consulting firm Leadership Development Group
Charlene Reed, secretary to the board of trustees at Kent State
Jerry Sue Thornton, past president of Cuyahoga Community College and member of Kent State’s presidential search committee
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and and university professor of public service at George Washington University

Koestner’s area of expertise would be advising universities on sexual misconduct policies and prevention. She said she works with thousands of schools and visits Kent State regularly to speak about date rape awareness.

“My understanding is that he created this group of consultants so that he and his peers can help higher education do a variety of things well,” she said.

Gerald Nilsson-Weiskott and Susan Nilsson-Weiskott, principal staff members at consulting firm Leadership Development Group, are also part of the consulting team. Gerald Nilsson-Weiskott said he and his wife have been executive and leadership coaches for more than 25 years.

He said Lefton, whom they have known for “many years,” had approached them and asked if they were interested.

Gerald Nilsson-Weiskott directed questions about the firm to Lefton.

According to university policy, employees cannot take outside jobs that are not “consistent with the individual’s responsibilities to the university.”

Employees must notify the school “whenever there is a question or reservation” about an outside job that could interfere with their university contract.

Mansfield said Lefton is using his own time and money for the firm he plans to start after he leaves the university.

Jeffrey Harris, founder and managing partner of Harris Search Associates, a search firm in Dublin, Ohio, said if higher education consultants are working for a university, their involvement in the firm would be pre-agreed upon in their contract with their respective universities.

“It’s not something they do without the consent of the university,” Harris said. “It’s not unusual to do some consulting on the side. They are very project by project things.”

Harris said Lefton would be free to start the firm when he retires. Other consultants hired by Lefton would need to have the consent of their subordinates at the university so they do not carry on two careers at the same time.

Koestner said Lefton is waiting until he retires to actively begin the consulting firm. She said she is looking forward to helping other schools spread awareness about date rape.

“If someone says, ‘can you help me do good work,’ and they like the way I think about problems, and I can do what I’m passionate about, then I’m there,” she said. “I don’t know if I will ever get called by him, but I’m happy to do it.”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the correct date for the website’s testing, which occurred Dec. 11.