Robert S. Harrison, a 1976 Cornell graduate and chief executive officer of the Clinton Global Initiative, was unanimously elected chair of the Cornell University Board of Trustees at its March 11 meeting in Ithaca. Harrison is a former student trustee, a Rhodes scholar, a lawyer and a retired managing director of The Goldman Sachs Group.
Harrison's two-and-a-half-year term begins Jan. 1, 2012, when he will succeed Peter C. Meinig '61. The board also approved a six-month extension of Meinig's term as chair to the end of the year.
"This is a tremendous honor. This is really quite an amazing circle closed for me and I'm very honored and privileged to be in this role as of January 1," Harrison said. "Mr. Meinig has been a great role model. I have learned a tremendous amount from watching him over the past nine years."
Said Meinig: "Bob has a great background, a great education at Cornell and Yale, a great business experience and great experience through the Clinton Global Initiative in the public sector. Bob has demonstrated his capability for many years on the board. He has chaired numerous committees, most recently the Executive Committee and the task force that looked in depth at the Medical Research Building that was a major commitment by our university, and he's done all of this with great success."
President David Skorton added his congratulations, calling Harrison "an enormously capable leader whose expertise and mentorship have been invaluable to me personally and to Cornell." Said Skorton: "Bob successfully helped lead the board through the economic crisis of the last two years, and he has played a critical role in bringing our Ithaca and New York City campuses together. He has been a key leader, working with the university's leadership, in setting us on the path toward becoming a stronger and fiscally sustainable university. I greatly look forward to working with him as chair of the board."
Skorton thanked Meinig for his tireless two terms of service as chair and for the critical work yet to be done this year under his leadership. He said: "Pete is truly a dedicated Cornellian, and the university has been hugely fortunate in having his leadership during trying times. Pete Meinig has taught me so much about Cornell and about leadership. For that I am grateful." Meinig has been a member of the board since 1991 and has served as chair since 2002.
Harrison chairs the board's Executive Committee, having served as a committee member since 2005. He has been a member of Cornell's board since 2002 and served as vice chair 2006-09. Harrison served as a student trustee on the board from 1975 to 1976, and becomes the first chair to have served in this capacity. He was college scholar at Cornell, creating a multidisciplinary academic program in government. He received a B.A./M.A. in politics, philosophy and economics in 1978 from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar, and a J.D. in 1981 from Yale Law School.
As a lawyer at the firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, Harrison practiced corporate law in New York City and Paris. He is also a retired partner and managing director at The Goldman Sachs Group, where he served as co-head of the global communications, media and entertainment group in the investment banking division.
Harrison now leads the Clinton Global Initiative, which former President Bill Clinton established in 2005. The initiative convenes global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges.
He is a major benefactor to Cornell, endowing the directorship of Institute for the Social Sciences in 2005 and the Hans Bethe House's Dale R. Corson House Professor-Deanship in 2009.
Beyond Cornell, Harrison is a director of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars and honorary chairman of the board of directors of Henry Street Settlement, a New York City social service agency founded in 1893.
Harrison and his wife, Jane, live in New York City with their three daughters, Justine, Amanda and Caroline.