News and analysis
December 17, 2013

Gates Foundation Names Calif. University Official as CEO

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has selected Susan Desmond-Hellmann, chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco, to be its next chief executive officer.

Dr. Desmond-Hellmann, 56, an oncologist, is the first chief executive to be hired from outside Microsoft and will replace the outgoing chief executive, Jeff Raikes, on May 1.

Mr. Raikes and his predecessor, Patty Stonesifer, were both high-level executives at the company that Mr. Gates co-founded before they assumed roles heading his family foundation, which supports global health and education.

During Mr. Raikes’s tenure, the value of the foundation’s grants increased 21 percent, from $2.8-billion to $3.4-billion, from 2008 to 2012, according to The Chronicle’s survey of large private grant makers.

“We chose Sue because of her scientific knowledge and deep technical expertise on the foundation’s issues, as well as the organizational and leadership skills required to lead a large, growing and dynamic global organization. Sue shares our commitment and passion to create a more equitable world,” Melinda Gates, co-chair of the world’s largest philanthropy, said in a statement.

In a statement, Bill Gates added: “Sue’s background in public health policy, research and development, and higher education, make her an exceptional fit for this role. She impressed us as an innovator and an outstanding leader and manager.”

Dr. Desmond-Hellmann, a native of Reno, Nev., is the university’s first female chancellor and was named to the position in August 2009, according to the Gates foundation. At the university, she “oversees all aspects of the university and medical center’s strategy, academic programs and operations,” a Gates press release stated.

Before her work at the university, she was Genentech’s president of product development, “where she led the development and introduction of two of the first gene-targeted therapies for cancer, Avastin and Herceptin,” the release said.

“I am honored by the opportunity that Bill and Melinda have extended to me,” Dr. Desmond-Hellmann said in the statement. “I’m excited to join such a dynamic and ambitious organization, with such a clear and focused mission—improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable.”

Brad Smith, chief executive of the Foundation Center, said Dr. Desmond-Hellmann’s lack of formal foundation management experience should not be a problem. “No one comes into these jobs with 100 percent of the skills they need,” he said.

“The learning curve for her will be in the business of philanthropy,” he said. But, he added, her background in research, higher education, and science makes her a compelling choice.

“She’s clearly a good fit for the program agenda at the Gates Foundation,” he said.

Send an e-mail to Doug Donovan.