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Did employers lose faith in ex-RRC boss?

Business leaders hard-pressed to cite major changes

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The next president of Red River College needs to recognize the college needs money, awareness and attention to address skills shortages that are holding back Manitoba's economy, veteran politician and business leader Jim Carr said Thursday.

Did mysteriously-departed former president Stephanie Forsyth recognize that?

On that, Carr was not prepared to venture an opinion.

"A president has to be very well connected with employers," said Carr, former longtime president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba and now a federal Liberal candidate in Winnipeg South-Centre.

Forsyth stepped down as RRC president Sunday by mutual agreement with the college, citing unspecified health and family reasons. The province will soon report on its lengthy investigation into the college's finances, leadership and morale.

Since the Duff Roblin report on postsecondary education came down, said Carr, "We've known we had undercultivated and undersourced colleges. There's a long way to go -- there are skills shortages putting the brakes on our full economic potential. This is a reminder -- leadership has to be very much involved in the business community... nimble in response to those changes," he said.

Several business leaders interviewed Thursday said they got along well with Forsyth, who they say had carried on to completion major projects started by her revered predecessor Jeff Zabudsky, including the heavy equipment training centre and the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute culinary arts program.

'It's another one of those secrets that not only Manitobans can't know, but students at our largest college, too. Why not talk about it right now? It could be that life just threw her a curveball, but then why not say that?'

But they were hard-pressed to cite any major changes Forsyth had brought to the college.

Red River's board of governors has refused to release any details about Forsyth's reasons for leaving, nor will RRC say if it paid her any severance.

Forsyth's spouse, Debbie Scarborough, returned to B.C. and was named executive director of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society June 16, the Penticton Herald reported.

Forsyth and Scarborough moved here in September 2010 from British Columbia; their Wellington Crescent house is for sale for $599,900.

Just when Forsyth was last on the job remained a mystery Thursday.

In July and again in early August, Red River denied she was under suspension and said she was on the job, though the college had issued no news release since early June about any special activities involving Forsyth.

Wednesday, RRC board chairman Richard Lennon said Forsyth had gone on vacation at her own request in late June, and in mid-August approached the board to "discuss moving on."

The college refused to say when Forsyth had last been in her office, when she went on vacation, or how much vacation time the president is entitled to, citing such matters as confidential human resources issues.

Progressive Conservative education critic Wayne Ewasko said the Selinger government is being needlessly secretive about Forsyth's departure.

"It's another one of those secrets that not only Manitobans can't know, but students at our largest college, too," the Lac Du Bonnet MLA said. "Why not talk about it right now? It could be that life just threw her a curveball, but then why not say that?"

A senior business source who requested anonymity said Thursday the revolving door on senior managers that began soon after Forsyth's hiring was a problem for the business community.

"I know all the musical chairs at the senior level was considered to be odd" and created uncertainty and nervousness among staff, said the source. It gave the impression "it was all about an individual, rather than the institution."

Under labour law and privacy of non-disclosure agreements, University of Manitoba law Prof. Michelle Gallant said, "You don't have any legal right to get those numbers" on severance pay and buyouts.

Doug Harvey, president and CEO of Maxim Truck and Trailer, praised Forsyth for her work at Red River.

"Under Jeff Zabudsky was where Red River started to get its place," said Harvey, and Forsyth continued on with his work.

Although Forsyth's name appeared in the Free Press only 32 times in four years, Harvey said she was active in the community. She was, nonetheless, in tough to attract the same attention as university presidents such as Lloyd Axworthy and David Barnard.

As for the senior management changes, Harvey said, they happen everywhere, but a public institution gets more notice: "You go with (change at the top), or fight it and end up on the street."

Harvey thought Forsyth's departure was simple: "My belief is her partner wasn't happy, couldn't get a job."

Mariette Mulaire, president and CEO of World Trade Centre Winnipeg, said Forsyth took a good culinary arts project in progress and improved it to a world-class operation.

"I found Stephanie, one thing she seemed to be doing was keeping on the great work done by Jeff," she said.

Mulaire said Forsyth was raising RRC's global profile through international teacher and student exchanges.

Don Leitch, Carr's successor at the Business Council of Manitoba, said members believe Forsyth was doing "reasonably well" in carrying on the work done by previous presidents "to progress and develop."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2014 B10

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