Maine business executive Theresa Sutton will be the chief advocate for the new Portland-based graduate center of the University of Maine System charged with building relationships with outside organizations and community leaders.

Sutton, most recently a vice president at Wex Inc., will begin work immediately as the founding CEO of Maine Center Ventures, which was created to foster ties between the center and outside interests, particularly in fostering curriculum and programs tailored to benefit Maine’s workforce needs.

Theresa Sutton

“Terry is an accomplished Maine business executive, entrepreneur and highly regarded leader who understands Maine’s economic landscape,” Chancellor James Page said. “She has led change across large Maine enterprises and driven growth in developing companies.”

Before joining Wex, a fast-growing company that provides payment-processing services, Sutton worked at CashStar, Davo Technologies, and for more than 20 years as an executive and manager at L.L. Bean.

She said she would draw from her experiences at both small tech startups and large, established companies in her role at the center.

“The entrepreneurial side provides an important component – of starting something from nothing and the need to reassess constantly,” she said. “But dealing with the larger employers in the state, it’s also really helpful to think how they are structured.”

This job, she said, “aligns my day job with my passions.”

Sutton, who reports to Page, will also co-chair the Maine Center Council, which includes campus provosts and deans of the various graduate schools.

Sutton’s hire is scheduled to be announced Monday at the system’s board of trustees meeting in Orono.

Plans are for the center to house and include the University of Maine School of Law; a new MBA program that replaces separate graduate business programs operating at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine in Orono; and the graduate programs in public health, public policy and management, which now operate at the Muskie School of Public Service at USM. The graduate center also would house the Cutler Institute for Health and Policy, which is the research arm of USM and part of the Muskie School on the Portland campus.

J. Michael Weber, the inaugural dean of the new Graduate School of Business, started work this month.

The center was first proposed in 2013, and the Harold Alfond Foundation provided more than $2 million studying and developing the project.

In July 2017, the Alfond Foundation gave the project $500,000, the first part of a $7.5 million challenge grant. The system will receive the funding in increments as it raises a matching amount of money and reaches certain benchmarks.

George Campbell, the former president of the University of Southern Maine Foundation, has been serving as interim CEO of the new center.

The project has not been without its conflicts. Getting the two existing MBA programs to agree on a single new program was difficult, and its location – still not officially determined – remains a hot topic.

The trustees needed to give Sutton a special waiver to take the job, system officials note. Trustees are not allowed to seek or hold a position with the university within a year of their board tenure. Sutton left the board on Aug. 17, 2017, and the search for a CEO started in the fall. Her letter of interest in the position is dated Feb. 12,, six months after she left the board. A national search, which began in January, produced 85 applicants and eight were interviewed.

The executive committee of the board granted Sutton an exemption to the one-year rule at its June 26 meeting.