Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann to Step Down, Longtime Foundation Executive Mark Suzman Appointed to Role
SEATTLE, December 5, 2019 – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann is stepping down after more than five years in the role. Bill and Melinda Gates have appointed Mark Suzman, the foundation’s president of Global Policy & Advocacy and chief strategy officer, as the new CEO. Suzman, who joined the foundation in 2007, will assume his new role on February 1, 2020.
Desmond-Hellmann made the decision to step away from full-time work after concluding that she could not adequately meet the demands of the position while caring for her own health and the needs of her family.
“This was without doubt the toughest decision of my career,” said Desmond-Hellmann. “But I felt I could no longer be the CEO the foundation needs and deserves at this vital time.”
Bill and Melinda Gates both praised Desmond-Hellmann’s leadership and expressed gratitude for her work to guide the foundation into its 20th year.
“Sue brought an incredible set of attributes to the foundation: scientific expertise, tested leadership skills, a passion for building a strong internal culture, and, above all, a dedication to the mission of making the world a healthier, more equal place,” said Melinda Gates. “Whether we were sitting in a conference room in Seattle or spending time with farmers in southern Africa, I was always grateful for her perspective and her partnership. Our foundation is better for the fact that Sue walked through its doors five years ago, and I wish Sue and her family all the best.
“When Sue decided to step down, we felt lucky that we had a partner as proven and trusted as Mark ready to take on this role. Mark’s knowledge of the external policy and advocacy environment, his deep understanding of our programmatic priorities, and his personal commitment to tackling inequality are just some of the reasons why we were excited that he will be the foundation’s next CEO. After working closely with Mark for more than a decade, we know what an asset he is to the foundation, and I’m eager to see all that he will accomplish in the years ahead.”
Desmond-Hellmann joined the foundation in 2014 after serving as the chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). An oncologist by training, Sue treated and researched AIDS-related cancer in San Francisco and Uganda in the 1980s and early 1990s, and led the development of the first gene-targeted breast cancer drug—Herceptin—while president of Genentech. During her tenure at the foundation, Desmond-Hellmann oversaw the creation of the Gates Medical Research Institute—the world’s first nonprofit biotech organization—as well as the launch of the Economic Mobility and Opportunity investment strategy in the United States. She also co-chairs the Post-Secondary Value Commission on how to calculate the return on investment of college, especially for low-income students. A hallmark of her tenure has been her focus on the importance of management and succession planning. She strengthened the authority, accountability, and decision-making practices of the foundation’s leadership teams and focused on improving culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“Sue’s commitment to innovation and continuous improvement at the foundation will be just a part of her enduring legacy,” said Bill Gates. “Her extraordinary leadership over the past five and a half years has seen both the launch of the Gates Medical Research Institute and the expansion of our work to examine poverty and economic mobility in the United States, among many other achievements. I want to personally thank Sue for her dedication, and to wish her the very best as she steps away to focus on health and family.
“As difficult as it is to say goodbye to Sue, we are very pleased to welcome Mark Suzman to the role of CEO. For more than 12 years, Mark has been a trusted advisor across our programs and partners. As we conclude our foundation’s second decade of work in global health and education, I have never been more optimistic about the opportunity to improve life for the world’s poorest. I look forward to partnering with Mark on the work ahead.”
A native of South Africa, Suzman joined the foundation in 2007 as director of Global Development Policy & Advocacy, becoming president of Global Policy & Advocacy in 2012 and taking on the additional responsibilities of the foundation’s first chief strategy officer in 2016. As president, he helped build and manage the foundation’s growing global presence in Europe, Africa, India, and China, as well as overseeing all government relations, philanthropic partnerships, and strategic communications in the United States and globally. As chief strategy officer, he led an overhaul of the foundation’s approach to developing and measuring strategic priorities.
Before joining the foundation, Suzman held multiple positions at the United Nations, including senior advisor for policy and strategic communications in the Office of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and policy director at the United Nations Development Program. Prior to that, he was a correspondent for the Financial Times, serving in Johannesburg, London, and Washington, D.C. He holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.
“It is an incredible honor and privilege to lead the Gates Foundation,” said Suzman. “I’m deeply grateful to Bill and Melinda for their faith in me and to Sue for her dedicated leadership and strong mentorship over the past five years. As we look ahead, I’m humbled and excited by the opportunity to advance our important mission to help ensure everyone in the U.S. and around the world has the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.”
Desmond-Hellmann was the foundation’s third CEO, after Jeff Raikes and Patty Stonesifer.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.