HED:Portera to lead MSU
By Marty Russell
STARKVILLE - Dr. Malcolm "Mack" Portera, a Mississippi native and the only one of three finalists to graduate from Mississippi State University, has been named the school's new president.
The state College Board approved Portera for the post Thursday morning with one member, Roy Klumb of Gulfport, voting against the recommendation. Klumb could not be reached for comment following the meeting.
"We are delighted with the decision by the board of trustees to give us an opportunity to provide leadership for one of the region's premier institutions of higher learning," Portera said after the vote, flanked by family members.
He will be MSU's 16th president, taking office in January to replace Dr. Donald Zacharias, who is resigning after a 12-year stint following a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis earlier this year.
"I'm excited," Zacharias said of his replacement. "I pledge one hundred percent support for him and I'll do everything I can to make his job as easy as possible."
Portera, 51, served as vice chancellor for external affairs for the University of Alabama from 1990 to 1996, when he resigned to start a consulting firm, Portera and Associates in Tuscaloosa.
A West Point native, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Mississippi State, graduating in 1971.
"We had three top-flight candidates and all brought different strengths to the table," said Dr. Tom Layzell, chairman of the state College Board. "It was clear to us that Mack was emerging as the strong candidate. He had the strengths best suited to the institution."
Portera has an extensive background in economic and community development. He has served on several local development boards in Alabama, as chairman of the College of Commerce International Business Advisory Board at the University of Alabama, as chairman of one of the committees that helped lure Mercedes Benz to Alabama, as a member of the Southern Growth Policies Board and on several national committees to promote U.S. and Japanese trade.
But he said he did not intend to turn MSU into an economic development agency.
"We will assist and support the state and local efforts where appropriate and where it will complement research and teaching but we will not become an economic development association," Portera said.
He said he also would divest himself of his consulting business, which he would turn over to his sons and which would not do business in Mississippi to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"I will not have any ownership in that company," he said.
Portera beat out two other finalists for the post including longtime MSU administrator Billy C. Ward, who has served as vice president for institutional advancement and executive assistant to the president since 1987. The other finalist was G. Jay Gogue, provost at Utah State University since 1995.
Portera reportedly had strong support from MSU's alumni.
"I'm very pleased with the role the College Board allowed us to play," said Durr Boyles of Jackson, president of the MSU Alumni Association. "I think the alumni should know that the College Board listened to our comments."
But Boyles insisted Portera's status as an alumnus of the school was not a factor in the association's support of his nomination.
"Believe it or not that was not the influencing factor," he said. "He happens to be a Mississippi State graduate but his accomplishments played a larger role than being an alumnus."
Local MSU alumni praised the choice of Portera and said they were not surprised by the board's decision.
"I had a suspicion he might be the one," said 1969 graduate Mike Black of Black's Department Store in Tupelo. "I thought they were all qualified. I didn't have a preference but with his north Mississippi ties, I thought he might have the inside track."
Lewis Whitfield, president of Deposit Guaranty National Bank in Tupelo and a 1966 MSU graduate, said he had been impressed by Portera in earlier encounters.
"I have heard some of his speeches in the past and he seems to be an outstanding person," said Whitfield, who serves on MSU's Alumni Foundation board.
Outgoing president Zacharias will remain at MSU in an advisory capacity while continuing to work on several projects he is already involved with, such as the Commission on the Future of the South and Internet II.
He had only one piece of advice to pass along to his successor.
"Get plenty of rest," Zacharias said.