Person

Susan Desmond-Hellmann

Occupation:

Former CEO, Gates Foundation (2014-2020)

Susan Desmond-Hellman is a medical researcher, academic, and left-leaning philanthropic executive best known as the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the former chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF).

Before working on academia and for the Gates Foundation, she worked for various biotechnology companies. She is also a former board member of Facebook.

While at the Gates Foundation, she was a promoter of the national education standards known as Common Core.

Early Life

Susan Desmond-Hellman was born in Reno, Nevada in 1958. She was part of a family of seven children. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a pharmacist. [1]

She would earn a Bachelor of Science in pre-medicine at the University of Nevada-Reno in 1978. She earned her masters in medicine from UNR in 1982. [2]

Early Career

Desmond-Hellmann first went to the University of California-San Francisco in 1982 as an intern. She would eventually rise to become the university’s chief resident. After completing her clinical training, she joined the UCSF faculty as an associate adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. [3]

She then became visiting faculty for two years at the Uganda Cancer Institute where she studied HIV/AIDS and cancer. Her husband also worked with her in Uganda. [4]

After working in Uganda, Desmond-Hellmann spent two years as in private practice as a medical oncologist. Then she returned to clinical research. [5]

In 1995, Desmond-Hellmann joined Genentech as a clinical researcher. She would later work her way up the ranks of the company. She was named chief medical officer in 1996. In 1999 she became executive vice president of development and product operations. [6]

In 2004, Desmond-Hellmann became president of product development. In that position, she was responsible for the development of new drugs and other products. Desmond-Hellman left Genentech in 2009; as a result of her work with the company, she became independently wealthy. [7]

Chancellor of UC-San Francisco

In 2009, Desmond-Hellmann became the first female chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco. She was the ninth chancellor in the university’s history. [8]

As chancellor, she managed more than 20,000 faculty and staff members and a large medical center. She made a salary of around $500,000 a year. [9]

Among Desmond-Hellmann’s accomplishments are shaping biomedical policy. She would serve as a member of the National Institutes of Health’s advisory committee on the National Center for Advancing Translational Science. She also championed the concept of precision medicine. She co-chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that produced the report Toward Precision Medicine: Building a Knowledge Network for Biomedical Research and a New Taxonomy of Disease. [10]

In 2010, it was disclosed that Desmond-Hellmann and her husband held stock in Altria, the owner of the tobacco company Philip Morris USA that makes Marlboro cigarettes. UCSF does a lot of work on tobacco control and encouraging people to quit smoking. After inquiries by the New York Times the couple sold their stock in Altria and announced they would screen their stock purchases more carefully. [11]

In 2012, Desmond-Hellmann proposed a plan to secure the financial future of the university. She wanted turn the university into the world’s preeminent health sciences innovator. She also wanted to change the relationship between the university and the University of California system. [12]

“What is at stake is our ability to deliver on our public mission and serve the people of California,” she told the board of regents. “To meet our public mission, we must aggressively confront our financial challenges. A successful and sustainable business model will allow us to strengthen our excellence in education, research and patient care.” [13]

Desmond-Hellman proposed leveraging the university’s research into new partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, among other healthcare providers. She also proposed that the university spin off successful biotech companies and create a new outpatient pharmacy in collaboration with a for-profit pharmaceutical company. The purpose of the new partnerships was to put the university on a better financial footing and Desmond-Hellmann ruled out privatizing the university. [14]

Under Desmond-Hellman’s leadership, UCSF continued to grow. The university added a $1.5 billion medical facility on campus. The medical facility expanded the university’s ability to provide on-campus medical care for women, children, and cancer patients. [15]

Gates Foundation

In March 2014, Desmond-Hellmann left UCSF to become CEO of the Gates Foundation. She was the first CEO of the foundation who did not come from Bill Gates’s inner circle. She would make a salary of $1 million a year. [16]

The Gates Foundation works on expanding healthcare around the world. The foundation also works on education programs and other economic development areas. [17]

Among the things the foundation works on is increasing cigarette taxes. The foundation strongly supported the Philippine government’s push for an 820% increase in the country’s tobacco tax. [18]

The foundation also worked to support the national education standards known as Common Core. The standards ran into strong opposition from teachers and parents. Desmond-Hellmann admitted in an open letter that the foundation failed to reach out to teachers and parents:[19]

Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning. [20]

Desmond-Hellmann also admitted that the foundation and other supporters of Common Core did a terrible job in creating educational materials that fit the new standards. “All teachers and students should have access to learning materials of the highest quality. But far too many districts report that identifying or developing Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge, meaning that teachers spend their time adapting or creating curriculum, developing lessons, and searching for supplemental materials.” wrote Desmond-Hellmann. [21]

In 2020, Desmond-Hellmann stepped down as Gates Foundation CEO. Desmond-Hellmann cited both health and family concerns for her decision to step down. [22]

Other Activities

Desmond-Hellmann was a board member of Facebook until 2019. During her tenure, Facebook drew criticism for its policies on speech. [23]

In March 2020, Desmond-Hellmann gave an interview about the coronavirus pandemic. She expressed concerns about the ability to limit community spread of the virus. She also discouraged people from buying masks to keep them available for healthcare providers. [24]

References

  1.         “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  2.    “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  3. “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  4. “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  5.   “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  6. “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  7. Doughton, Sandi. 2014. “Tough Bosses No Problem For Gates Foundation’s New CEO”. Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/tough-bosses-no-problem-for-gates-foundationrsquos-new-ceo/. ^
  8. “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  9. Doughton, Sandi. 2014. “Tough Bosses No Problem For Gates Foundation’s New CEO”. Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/tough-bosses-no-problem-for-gates-foundationrsquos-new-ceo/. ^
  10.   “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  11. Wilson, Duff. 2010. “University Chief Is Selling Tobacco Holdings”. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/health/29altria.html. ^
  12. Cisneros, Lisa. 2012. “Chancellor Proposes New Approach To Secure UCSF’s Financial Future”. UC San Francisco. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/01/104265/chancellor-proposes-new-approach-secure-ucsfs-financial-future. ^
  13. Cisneros, Lisa. 2012. “Chancellor Proposes New Approach To Secure UCSF’s Financial Future”. UC San Francisco. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/01/104265/chancellor-proposes-new-approach-secure-ucsfs-financial-future. ^
  14. Cisneros, Lisa. 2012. “Chancellor Proposes New Approach To Secure UCSF’s Financial Future”. UC San Francisco. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/01/104265/chancellor-proposes-new-approach-secure-ucsfs-financial-future. ^
  15. “Susan Desmond-Hellman – Biography”. 2020. A History Of UCSF. Accessed May 25. https://history.library.ucsf.edu/desmond_hellman.html. ^
  16. Doughton, Sandi. 2014. “Tough Bosses No Problem For Gates Foundation’s New CEO”. Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/tough-bosses-no-problem-for-gates-foundationrsquos-new-ceo/. ^
  17. “What If… | A Letter From The CEO Of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation”. 2016. Gates Foundation. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/2016/ceo-letter#section4. ^
  18. “What If… | A Letter From The CEO Of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation”. 2016. Gates Foundation. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/2016/ceo-letter#section4. ^
  19. “What If… | A Letter From The CEO Of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation”. 2016. Gates Foundation. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/2016/ceo-letter#section4. ^
  20. “What If… | A Letter From The CEO Of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation”. 2016. Gates Foundation. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/2016/ceo-letter#section4. ^
  21. “What If… | A Letter From The CEO Of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation”. 2016. Gates Foundation. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/2016/ceo-letter#section4. ^
  22. Branswell, Helen. 2019. “Gates Foundation CEO Susan Desmond-Hellmann To Step Down”. STAT. https://www.statnews.com/2019/12/05/gates-foundation-ceo-susan-desmond-hellmann-to-step-down/. ^
  23. “Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellmann Departs Facebook Board Of Directors”. 2019. Facebook. https://about.fb.com/news/2019/10/desmond-hellmann-departs-board/. ^
  24. Herper, Matthew. 2020. “Susan Hellmann: The Coronavirus Is Scary. Here’s Why You Should Not Panic”. STAT. https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/06/susan-desmond-hellman-the-coronavirus-is-alarming-heres-why-you-should-not-panic/. ^

Connected Organizations

  1. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Non-profit)
    Former CEO (2014-2020)
  2. Facebook (For-profit)
    Former Board Director
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