John L. Thornton was elected chairman of the Brookings Board of Trustees yesterday, succeeding James A. Johnson, who has served in the post for nine years.
Thornton, who joined the board in 2000 and succeeded Stephen Friedman as chairman of its executive committee in 2002, is completing a 23-year career at Goldman Sachs, where he has been president and co-chief operating officer since 1999. Beginning in September, he will become director, as well as a professor, in the new Global Leadership program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“Jim Johnson provided visionary leadership and generous support to Brookings for nearly a decade,” said Brookings President Strobe Talbott. “I’m honored by having had a chance to work with him. We’re fortunate to have John Thornton taking the helm of the board. He brings great breadth of experience as well as commitment to the ideals of public service and to the highest standards of independent scholarly research for which the Institution stands.”
After retiring from Goldman Sachs on July 1, Thornton will continue to serve as a senior adviser to the firm and as a trustee of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. He is also a director of the Ford Motor Company, British Sky Broadcasting, and the Pacific Century Group, Inc. Thornton is a member of the Council on Foreign relations and a director or trustee of various educational and philanthropic organizations, including the Asia Society, the Hotchkiss School, Morehouse College, and the Yale School of Management. He is also a member of the Investment Committee at Yale University.
Thornton received an A.B. in history from Harvard College in 1976, a B.A./M.A. in jurisprudence from Oxford University in 1978, and an M.P.P.M. from the Yale School of Management in 1980.
At Tsinghua, he will be the first non-Chinese full professor at the University since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. He will also serve as a special advisor on China to Richard C. Levin, president of Yale University.
Thornton said, “At a time when policy choices have become increasingly complex, Brookings can make an enormous contribution to the national discussion by offering creative, non-partisan ideas. I am pleased and honored to be part of such an important enterprise. Moreover, I am particularly honored to be following in the footsteps of Jim Johnson, who has led the Institution with great distinction and on whose counsel I continue to rely. I also look forward in my new position to assisting Strobe Talbott and the Institution’s community in taking Brookings to even greater levels of achievement.”
Johnson, who joined the Brookings board in 1992, is currently the vice chairman of Perseus, L.L.C., a merchant banking and private equity firm based in Washington and New York City. From 1991-1998, he served as chairman of Fannie Mae. Prior to joining Fannie Mae, he was a managing director in corporate finance at Lehman Brothers.
Johnson is a director of the Goldman Sachs Group, KB Home Corporation, Target Corporation, United Health Group, and Temple-Inland, Inc.
From 1977-1981, he was executive assistant to Walter Mondale, advising the Vice President on domestic and foreign policy, as well as political matters.
Since 1996, Johnson has been chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a position he plans to give up later this year. He is also chairman of the Advisory Council of Public Strategies, Inc. Johnson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and in 2001 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Johnson received a B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota and an M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, where he later taught. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Howard University and Colby College.
“The years I spent working for Vice President Mondale showed me the importance of getting a steady infusion of fresh ideas from policy specialists outside the government,” Johnson said. “I think that Brookings, with its commitment to independent, non-partisan research, has led the way in filling this need. I am proud that I could play some small role in pushing Brookings to the forefront. I will miss my close involvement with the Institution but am delighted to leave it in the extremely capable hands of John Thornton.”