Inside Salk; Salk Insitute

Thank you and good-bye

As July 1 approaches and I near the end of my nearly seven-year run as Salk's president and CEO, I am struck by what a stimulating time it has been, both for me and my wife, Elaine. We look back on these years with satisfaction and pride, recognizing that the high points came when the entire Salk community pulled together.

Salk scientists, whose research is truly remarkable, anchor that community. The scientific output here is even better than I imagined upon arriving in 2000, not only because of the quality of individual researchers, but also as a result of their interactions with each other and with their students. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Institute's founding scientists for laying the groundwork for this collaborative environment by setting extremely high standards of scientific excellence and sharing, and to Jonas Salk and Louis Kahn for having the foresight to create an architectural masterpiece without internal walls, so that interactions would occur easily.

Back in 2001, when we crafted our first strategic plan for the Institute, it was Salk researchers who accurately predicted the future directions of science. That planning led to the hiring of 16 new-generation scientists to ensure the Institute's future, and it launched entirely new research efforts, including the Skirball Center for Genomics and Chemical Genetics, the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology, the Dulbecco Center for Cancer Research, the Razavi-Newman Center for Bioinformatics, the Coates Center for Mass Spectrometry, a stem cell facility established by the Lookout Fund, and a new facility for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy gifted by the Kohlberg Foundation.

I have no doubt that our just-completed 2007 Salk Institute Strategic Plan, with scientific direction again provided by our researchers, will similarly shape the next five years of transformative research. Salk faculty members justly deserve their top ratings in neuroscience and molecular biology, as measured by international citations of their research achievements.

A large portion of the Institute's scientific output is generated by the Salk's 300 postdoctoral trainees and graduate students. They drive the research enterprise with their creativity, dedication, and long hours in our laboratories, and my sincere thanks go to all of them. Dealing with talented vibrant young people has been one of the true pleasures of my academic life.

It takes a village to support the Institute's science, and the unsung heroes working behind the scenes — and seldom sharing in the kudos — are the staff in our operating departments. I want members of our Accounting, Administrative Services, Animal Resources, Computer Services, Glassware, Grants Administration, Human Resources, Purchasing, Facilities, Lab Safety, Office of Technology Management, Development, Institute Relations, Communications, and Multimedia departments as well as those who work in our research labs to know how vital their talents, commitment, and high-quality efforts have been to our output, and how much they are appreciated. Special thanks to my assistant Patti Tzannos for keeping my life organized and for her limitless patience, energy and support.

Special thanks go to the splendid senior administrative team that served the Institute's researchers and me so well these seven years. All of them have worked tirelessly and selflessly to support the Institute's scientific mission, and it was a privilege and pleasure to be their colleague.

Bruce Stevenson, vice president of Academic Affairs and an accomplished cell biologist, provided numerous support functions for our scientists and upgraded the departments responsible for animal services and laboratory safety. He recruited Virginia McFerran to head Computer Services, and she, in turn, transformed the department's capability to support the Institute's science and business systems.

Beth Alton, vice president of Human Resources, carried out the Institute's first benchmarking compensation analysis to ensure that all employees are being paid appropriately. She linked the business systems of HR with accounting, and she spearheaded with energy, determination, and intelligence the Institute's Master Plan, which is essential to the Institute's future growth and success.

Dianne Day, vice president of Development, has been especially generous in including me in friendships she's created over the past 35 years with individuals and foundations who support the Institute. Both Dianne and Kristin Bertell, vice president of Institute Relations, professionalized our development operations by creating a state-of-the-art donor data base. Through their efforts, the International Council was reinvigorated and enrollment and fundraising from our President's Club doubled. Donations to the Institute, which exceeded $170 million, increased by 32 percent in a five-year period acknowledged to be a difficult time for fundraising.

Among the new initiatives Dianne and Kristin created were Sensational Salk, the San Diego Community Advisory Council, and the Taste of Discovery dinner series for donors. They transformed Symphony at Salk from a friend-raiser to an important fundraising event by involving generous underwriters. And under Kristin's direction, a formalized Planned Giving Office was established and the Institute's communications, including our website, became ever more effective and professional.

Our Office of Technology Management, headed by Anne-Marie Mueller, has done a superb job of managing the Institute's inventions and licensing arrangements, educating our scientists and trainees on intellectual property matters, and acting quickly to protect the inventions of our scientists. And Kim Witmer, vice president of Finance, has been steadfast in ensuring that the Institute's finances are managed according to the highest professional standards.

Bruce, Dianne, Virginia, Beth, and Kristin have now moved on to new career challenges, and we wish them well.

The dedication of Salk Institute trustees has been constant and outstanding. Each brings unique and important strengths to the Institute, and no president could have received more support from such a distinguished board of advisors. Special thanks go to the Board chairs under whom I've served, Fred Rentschler and Jerry Kohlberg. Both are acclaimed business leaders, and both brought intelligence, honesty, dedication, impeccably high standards, and generous financial support to the Institute.

They helped us attract 24 new trustees to the Board, introduce term limits and emeritus trusteeships, and revamp the Board's committee structures, including establishing a superb investment committee that increased the Institute's endowment from $107 million in 2003 to over $170 million today.

Their spouses, Pam Rentschler and Nancy Kohlberg, were fully supportive of their husbands' efforts and accepted with grace my many phone calls and demands on their husbands' time, and I thank them. I am confident the Institute will continue to thrive under the determined leadership of new Board Chair Irwin Jacobs and with the support of his wife, Joan. We are grateful to both of them for taking on the challenge.

Elaine and I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming acquainted with the Institute's many friends and donors, from those local to San Diego to those on the national and international scene. These include members of the Salk Institute Association, the new San Diego Community Advisory Council, the President's Club, and the Salk International Council, with whom we will meet one last time in June in Vienna. We thank them all for their interest in and support of the Institute and for enriching our lives with their friendship, and we look forward to continuing our relationships with many of them.

I could not have served the Salk Institute without the involvement of Elaine, who contributed in so many ways, including working alongside me to raise the Salk Institute's profile in San Diego. She generously attended and hosted Institute events, where she made and enjoyed many friends; she opened our home to the Institute for social events with enthusiasm; and she used her considerable skills as a writer/editor to make my prose sound intelligent. Her unflagging enthusiasm for the Institute made my job easy.

In sum, it has been a privilege for me to participate over the past seven years in furthering the legacy of one of the most unique collaborations in the history of science, that of the March of Dimes (MOD) and Jonas Salk, a partnership that all but eradicated polio and then went on to establish the Salk Institute. It has been a pleasure to meet and know Charlie Massey, who was there at the beginning of the MOD and the Institute, MOD president Jennifer Howse, and MOD's representatives on the Board of Trustees, Dick Freeman and Nancy Lukitsch.

Elaine and I treasure our friendship with several individuals in particular who have linked us to the legacies of Jonas Salk and Louis Kahn: Françoise Gilot, Jonas's widow and a remarkable and gifted woman; Jonas's sons, Peter and Jonathan; Jack MacAllister and David Rinehart, outstanding thinkers and architects who have remained devoted to the Institute since their collaboration with Kahn; and Nathaniel Kahn, whose filmmaking talents demonstrate his inheritance of his father's creative genes. Indeed, we are fortunate to have served Salk at a time when Nathanial's and Susan Behr's award-winning film "My Architect" brought ever-wider attention to this remarkable institution.

To my successor go my very best wishes for success, along with this advice: Build upon our achievements, correct our mistakes, and work to realize the full potential of this wonderful organization, whose noble goals are so important to bettering the human condition. I hope you will enjoy furthering the Salk Institute's scientific mission as much as I have.