Gates Foundation Gets UCSF Chief Desmond-Hellmann as New CEO

Xconomy Seattle — 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just got a physician, big university administrator, and one of the world’s most respected drug developers rolled into one as its new CEO.

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the chancellor of UC San Francisco since 2009 and the former president of product development at Genentech, has been hired as the new CEO of the Gates Foundation, according to a statement from the foundation. She will start on May 1. UCSF said Sam Hawgood, the dean of the school of medicine, will replace Desmond-Hellmann as interim chancellor.

The Seattle-based Gates Foundation is the world’s largest philanthropy with $40 billion in assets to put toward its work in global health, economic development in poor countries, and education. The foundation’s top job was previously held by former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes. While the Gates Foundation is an agenda-setter in global health, it has never had a physician/executive like Desmond-Hellmann in its top job. Desmond-Hellmann is an oncologist by training, and was a key player on Genentech’s management team during its storied run to become the world’s largest cancer drugmaker in the 1990s and 2000s.

“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,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation, in a statement.

“I am honored by the opportunity that Bill and Melinda have extended to me. 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,” said Desmond-Hellmann. Desmond-Hellmann had more to say in her letter to the UCSF community about her move.

I interviewed Desmond-Hellmann a couple years ago in some depth about her vision for advancing human health at UCSF, during a time of budgetary constraints. You can read more from that interview here. I also recently interviewed Trevor Mundel, the president of global health at the foundation and a former Novartis executive, on some of the things he’s done to shake up the foundation’s global health programs to make a bigger impact.