Jennifer Varkonyi, general manager of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), resigned in late August after a six-month tenure.
“My decision for stepping down from the role of general manager of the SSMU was made due to personal circumstances,” Varkonyi wrote in an email to the Tribune. “The Executive Committee is working hard on the recruitment strategy. My last day is planned for September 29, 2015.”
The position of general manager, outlined in Article 12 of the SSMU Constitution, is the only permanent staff position to be constitutionally entrenched. The general manager’s responsibilities include consulting on long-term matters of planning and administration, maintaining SSMU’s financial stability, and to assist the SSMU president in managing internal human resources.
“The general manager [is someone] I like to refer to as the institutional memory hub of the SSMU,” Kareem Ibrahim, SSMU president, said. “We have an annual turnover [of SSMU Executives], which is inherently destabilizing. The general manager is supposed to be the person who stays around for at least five to seven years, hopefully a decade at a time.”
Varkonyi was hired in February 2015. She succeeded Pauline Gervais, who retired after serving as SSMU’s general manager for 12 years. Gervais cited the difficulties of the position as part of the reason she chose to retire.
“It was time for me to leave because I was getting tired of starting over year after year […] with new executives and having to train them,” Gervais said. “It is very hard on the [permanent] staff to deal with different people every year, different mentalities and different ways and visions […] because the staff remains there, and the executives are replaced every year.”
Following Varkonyi’s hiring, certain tasks under the job description of the general manager were delegated to SSMU executives or other SSMU staff members in order to lessen some of the challenges she might have faced during the transition period.
“The position of general manager has an incredibly steep learning curve, and the transition has historically been challenging," Ibrahim said. “This past summer saw an unprecedented level of work in the SSMU office and we faced many difficulties. We did a lot of shuffling of tasks to try and ensure that no single staff member was met with an unmanageable workload. We regret seeing Jennifer leave, as she contributed a lot to the organization and supported the team during a time when many changes were taking place.”
Gervais explained that she had minimal involvement in Varkonyi’s transition to the position.
“I don't think she had enough training,” Gervais said. “I offered, because I was available to stay with her a couple weeks to do day-to-day stuff [….] For me, it was very, very important that SSMU didn't suffer because of me leaving after that long, but they had chosen not to have me help.”
According to Ibrahim, the hiring process for a new general manager following Gervais’ resignation was rushed.
“The past executive decided to do an internal recruitment and not spend money on an external firm—which is typically the process for positions as big as these,” he said. “That internal recruitment was only done by the president and the [human resources] advisor and the outgoing general manager, which we will be doing differently.”
Although Varkonyi’s last day as general manager is in September, she may stay on in a part-time role through October. SSMU will seek a new general manager through an independent head-hunting firm. SSMU may additionally consult a hiring committee composed of members of the McGill community. In the meantime, SSMU may potentially seek an interim hire to fill the position.