Photo of Marc Tessier-Lavigne

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Neuroscience pioneer Marc Tessier-Lavigne named Stanford's next president

The Stanford trustees announced that Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University and former Stanford faculty member, will be the 11th president. He will assume the role Sept. 1.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University in New York City, will become Stanford University's 11th president on Sept. 1, the Stanford Board of Trustees announced today.

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A conversation with Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Tessier-Lavigne, 56, a pioneering neuroscientist, former Stanford faculty member and outspoken advocate for higher education, brings broad academic and administrative experience. Most recently, he has led The Rockefeller University, a premier biomedical research and graduate education institution, for the past five years. He will succeed John L. Hennessy, who announced in June 2015 that he will step down this summer after 16 years as president.

"Marc Tessier-Lavigne brings to Stanford an infectious energy, confident leadership, a distinguished academic record and a lifetime immersed in leading initiatives to develop knowledge for the benefit of humanity," said Steve Denning, chairman of the Stanford Board of Trustees. "Marc has a sophisticated understanding of the breadth of the Stanford enterprise, the centrality of faculty and students to our mission, and the critical role of the president in preserving and enhancing Stanford's excellence as one of the world's great universities. He is an exemplary leader who we believe will continue Stanford's accelerating trajectory."

Tessier-Lavigne was the unanimous choice presented to the Board of Trustees by a 19-member Presidential Search Committee that spent the past six months and thousands of hours reviewing prospective candidates in a comprehensive, inclusive global search. The full board unanimously approved the committee's choice in a special meeting this morning.

"Marc has a remarkable record of achievement," said Trustee Isaac Stein, who chaired the search committee. "What we have learned through this search, without exception, is that he has made every institution he has touched far better for his presence. He has a unique combination of personal humility and confidence, and we believe his commitment to the excellence of Stanford – in all of its parts – will be a hallmark of his leadership. We are pleased that from a diverse pool of outstanding candidates, we found in Marc a leader who is an ideal match for Stanford today."

In accepting the presidency, Tessier-Lavigne said, "I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to build on the remarkable legacy of John Hennessy. Stanford has established itself as one of the world's foremost comprehensive research universities, marked by excellence in undergraduate and graduate education, leadership in scholarship and research across all disciplines, and an unsurpassed culture of innovation and service. It will be a privilege to rejoin the Stanford community and to lead this extraordinary institution."

Tessier-Lavigne was a professor of biological sciences at Stanford from 2001 to 2005 and held the Susan B. Ford Professorship, having been recruited to the post by President Hennessy. Tessier-Lavigne spent a portion of his Stanford faculty appointment on leave after joining Genentech, Inc.

Tessier-Lavigne has spent more than 20 years in the Bay Area, beginning as an assistant professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco in 1991.  He rose to associate and then full professor of anatomy, and of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, where he earned various teaching honors. He was an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1994 until his transition to Genentech in 2003.

At Genentech, Tessier-Lavigne served in roles of increasing managerial responsibility, including as executive vice president for research and chief scientific officer, overseeing 1,400 scientists focusing on disease research and drug discovery for cancer, immune disorders, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.

"From his extensive experience as a faculty member and accomplished scientist, to leading 1,400 scientists at Genentech, to his most recent transformational accomplishments at Rockefeller University, his skills are both broad and deep," said Kathryn Moler, professor of physics, chair of the Faculty Senate and a member of the Presidential Search Committee. "All of us on the committee were impressed at how thoughtfully he addressed the many issues and opportunities for Stanford that were raised in our extensive conversations."

English Professor Ramón Saldívar, also a search committee member, said "The committee was impressed with Marc's commitment to the principles of a comprehensive research university. He is passionate about the importance of a balanced, liberal arts education, one that includes the humanities and arts as critical and integral."

As president of The Rockefeller University since 2011, Tessier-Lavigne has worked with faculty, students and trustees to develop and execute a nine-year strategic plan focusing on junior and mid-career faculty recruitment, enhancement of graduate and postdoctoral education and establishment of new interdisciplinary research programs. His fundraising success resulted in launching a nearly $1 billion capital campaign, funding several important initiatives including a transformative "river campus" expansion of the university in Manhattan.

Nationally and internationally, Tessier-Lavigne has been a tireless advocate for societal support of science, including testifying before Congress on the need for federal funding of research. He has been a champion of growing the New York bioscience community, partnering with other academic medical institutions to help establish the New York Genome Center and working with the New York City government and private sector to stimulate biomedical industry development.

Throughout his administrative tenures Tessier-Lavigne has remained active in teaching and research in his field of neuroscience, where he is a world leader in the study of brain development and repair. His research has focused on the cause and treatment of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, as well as on therapies for spinal cord injuries. His seminal discoveries in the biology of the nervous system revealed how neural circuits in the brain form during embryonic development.

Tessier-Lavigne has been awarded numerous honors for his scientific achievement, including election to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Royal Society (UK) and The Royal Society of Canada.

A native of Ontario, Canada, who spent most of his childhood in Europe, Tessier-Lavigne was the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree.  He received undergraduate degrees in physics from McGill University in 1980 and in philosophy and physiology in 1982 from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He received a PhD in physiology from University College London in 1987 and performed postdoctoral work there and at Columbia University.

In 2015, Tessier-Lavigne co-founded the South San Francisco-based biotech company Denali Therapeutics to research drug therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. He also earlier co-founded Renovis, a neuroscience start-up that was later acquired. He serves on several non-profit and corporate boards, including the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Tessier-Lavigne's wife, Mary Hynes, is also a noted neuroscientist who was a senior research scientist in the Stanford Department of Biology from 2003 to 2011. She has continued her research program at Rockefeller, where her work focuses on the potential of cell replacement therapy to inform the development of treatments for Parkinson's disease. Like her husband, she has experience in both academia and private industry and also ran a research laboratory at Genentech. The couple has maintained a home on the Peninsula and has three children.

At Stanford, Tessier-Lavigne will oversee a research university of 7,000 undergraduate students, 9,000 graduate students and 2,100 faculty members in seven schools, with a budget of over $5.5 billion. The campus is noted for its culture of innovation and collaboration, and its comprehensive strength in undergraduate education and interdisciplinary study, as well as its globally top-ranked graduate programs. Stanford is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its opening this year.

Tessier-Lavigne said he is attracted to and energized by the academic scale and scope of Stanford, which allows the university to provide an unmatched education to its diverse student body, as well as seek innovative solutions for a wide range of global challenges.

"I look forward to rejoining the Stanford family next summer," he said. "In coming months, I plan to listen and learn from faculty, students, staff, trustees and alumni, to understand more fully the many opportunities and challenges facing the university, and to hear their aspirations for this great institution. I am excited to work with all members of our community to drive Stanford to even greater heights."

Stanford President John Hennessy will continue his role until Aug. 31. Provost John Etchemendy, who has served in tandem with Hennessy in leading the university since 2000, will continue in his role with Tessier-Lavigne next year until a successor is appointed.

Hennessy said that he looks forward to working closely with Tessier-Lavigne to assure a smooth transition over the coming months. "I played a role in originally recruiting Marc to the Stanford faculty and I know very well his remarkable qualifications," Hennessy said. "I take pride in welcoming Marc back to campus as my successor, and have complete confidence that he will continue Stanford's momentum for years to come."