RWJF Welcomes New President and CEO, Richard Besser, MD

A letter to the field from Risa

    • February 13, 2017

Dear Friends,

Back in September I shared with all of you that, after 14 years as the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I felt it was the right time for a change of leadership, and that I intended to step down once a successor could be named. Today, I am excited to introduce you to the extraordinary man who has been chosen to lead the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation into the future, and build on our accomplishments: Dr. Richard Besser. 

Writing this message is bittersweet. It is hard to leave the incredible team at RWJF who have become my family, as well as the dedicated partners and grantees who have been with us all along the way. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together, making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans by helping build a Culture of Health in this country. However, I could not be more optimistic about RWJF’s future, because our next president and CEO is the right person for this time in our history.

When I decided to move on to my next chapter, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, led by our Chair Roger Fine, undertook an extensive search process to find a new leader. The Board and I believed that my successor had to be a person who would bring many qualities to the job: a passion for health, scientific rigor, a deep understanding of the work we do, empathy for the many people whose health we join with you to improve, and the communications abilities to help us tell your stories in a way that enhances our collective impact. I can confidently say, Dr. Besser brings all these things.  

For those of you who don’t know him, he is a pediatrician, an epidemiologist and a respected public health professional. He is the former acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was most recently ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. Prior to joining ABC, Dr. Besser served at the CDC as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. In that role he was responsible for all the CDC's public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities. He served as acting director for the CDC from January to June 2009, during which time he led the CDC's response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic. And in a prior stint at CDC, he served as an infectious disease epidemiologist working on pneumonia, antibiotic resistance and the control of antibiotic overuse.

In addition to his work at the CDC, Dr. Besser has academic and community health roots. He served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego as the pediatric residency director, while also doing research and working for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. Dr. Besser received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Williams College and medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. 

There will be a period of transition during which time I will remain president and CEO of the Foundation. I expect to officially hand over responsibilities in April.

Dr. Besser is profoundly qualified to lead the Foundation into the future. He has my full confidence. He has the full support and confidence of our Board of Trustees. And I know that he will have yours, as well. So please join me in congratulating and welcoming Rich to RWJF.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve alongside you these past 14 years. I will remain an advocate, friend, and cheerleader for the work RWJF and its many grantees and partners do to build healthier families and healthier, more equitable communities for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.  




Media Contacts

Jordan Reese

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-6322