Flechsig Eases Into Davenport Post

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — No hard-working and successful man or woman is really self-made, no matter what Ross Perot may claim. Somewhere in their lifetime someone has come along and gently pushed them in the right direction.

Davenport University Chancellor Randolph Flechsig is no exception to that reality. After a lengthy and flourishing career in health care administration and medical education, Flechsig took the helm of one of the nation’s leading private business schools last October — truly an emblem that he is a hard worker who has succeeded.

Yet, Flechsig eagerly credited two others as being highly influential in his career and for being instrumental in his rise to Davenport’s top post: John Freysinger and Donald Maine.

Flechsig said Freysinger was the first who taught him how to learn. He had just left graduate school for an administrative residency position at People’s Community Hospital Authority in Wayne, where the late Freysinger was CEO.

Then more than a decade later, while serving as a director for Great Lakes Junior College in Saginaw, he met Maine — who, he said, continued to fine-tune his learning process.

“I have been fortunate and blessed in having two great mentors,” he said.

Five years ago, Davenport bought the junior college and added it to its growing system. Flechsig was then invited to sit on the university’s board of directors, having chaired Davenport’s Central Region Board of Trustees for the five previous years.

“I was appointed chair of that board, the local board which was the Central board at the time, and sat on the holding company, and began working with the board and Don here at Davenport in 1996,” he said.

Before Flechsig arrived at Davenport, he was chairman and CEO of Saginaw Cooperative Hospitals Inc., a graduate medical educational facility with ties to Michigan State University. Before that post, he spent nearly a dozen years as president and CEO of the Hospital Council of East Central Michigan, also based in Saginaw.

So when Flechsig came to the East Fulton campus last fall, he certainly wasn’t a stranger to either Davenport or the business of higher education. In fact, his management experience in health care actually prepared him for taking over at Davenport when Maine retired, as the two industries have similar management demands.

“My job prior to coming here was in graduate medical education. So there was a natural bridge in my career between pure health care, hospital administration, and pure higher education administration. The switch was a natural one to make,” he said.

“Both are similar in that they’re public-like institutions that serve communities with complex governance and multiple constituencies. We have faculty and students. In hospitals, you have a medical staff and patients. And the governance is very similar, very complex.”

So what does Flechsig like best about being at Davenport? It’s pretty much the same thing he liked about the health care profession and something that has been a tradition at Davenport — namely, helping others in the community.

“I like contributing to the success of others. I like seeing those that attend our school obtain their degree and then go on to be successful. And then ultimately seeing them come back as alumni at different events. I enjoy that immensely,” he said. “Being able to be part of an organization that contributes in that way is very rewarding.”

Next on his list are the formative tasks he faces as chancellor. There are many, but for Flechsig one stands out right now: how to best use both virtual learning and in-seat learning in the curriculum. “That challenge, from a strategic thinking and visionary standpoint, is very exciting for the organization,” he added.

Flechsig also wants to further define the contrast between public and private institutions of higher learning, and the roles each play. He said that Davenport has a different set of priorities in how the school finds funding, grows, serves students and prospers than state-supported schools do.

The most obvious difference, of course, is funding. Private universities largely rely on alumni contributions, while grants and loans also contribute. Another is related, but slightly more subtle. Schools like Davenport have an opportunity to specialize in an area better than most public colleges can because they’re not tied to a political process, one that can often dictate what is taught and how it is presented in the classroom in return for financial support.

“On the other hand, we could never have the breadth of programming that Grand Valley State or Western Michigan offers. They are able to serve a larger population, while we’re niche-driven. All universities value and build alumni bases. But for us, building a life-long relationship is absolutely fundamental to our existence,” said Flechsig.

“It’s not something that I want to change. But it’s something, as I settle in to the chancellorship and move forward, that I hope to be able to have people appreciate more — in a global sense and not just in Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo.”

As for his educational background, Flechsig earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Xavier University in Cincinnati and a master’s in health care administration from St. Louis University. He also taught health care administration at Central Michigan University.

Flechsig likes to golf and fish, and travel with his wife, Laura, and their sons, Harrison and Clayton, when he isn’t working. Harrison is nine and Clayton is six.

“We like to expose the boys to different parts of the country, and, hopefully, the world as they get a little older,” he said.

Flechsig has been steering Davenport’s 27-campus system for about eight months now. In a few weeks, he will lead a ceremony that will mark an expansion of the university’s main campus. Then, later this year, he will direct a groundbreaking of the school’s new south-side campus. It’s a good job, Flechsig said, one that has become more and more relaxing for him.

“We have great people here. We have great boards. I enjoy the community very much. So, yes, I’m comfortable,” he said. “There is a lot to do and there is a lot to understand. But, overall, I’m comfortable and am getting more comfortable every day.”

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