Suzanne Nora Johnson elected as new Board of Trustees chair

Suzanne Nora Johnson currently serves as board chair and chair of the Compensation Committee for Intuit, chair of the Audit Committee at Pfizer and co-chair of the Brookings Institution. (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Nora Johnson)

Suzanne Nora Johnson was elected the new chair of the University Board of Trustees, President Carol Folt announced in a communitywide email Thursday. She is the first woman to ever hold the chair position. 

“Chair Nora Johnson is an insightful strategist and an ethical and collaborative leader,” Folt wrote in the email. “She will work tirelessly to help USC advance and progress, and we will benefit greatly from her experience, enthusiasm, and energy.” 

Nora Johnson’s election follows a “thorough process” led by the Board’s Nominating and Governance Committee, after former Chair Rick Caruso announced in February that he would step down from the position to run for mayor of Los Angeles. 

“After all that we have been through and accomplished, it is bittersweet to step down as board chair of the institution I have been so proud to steer, though I do so passing the baton into the hands of one of the brightest and most principled executives in the country,” Caruso said in an interview with USC News. 

Caruso assumed the chair position one week after former University President C. L. Max Nikias resigned following decades of sexual abuse allegations against former University gynecologist George Tyndall becoming public, and led the Board of Trustees through multiple other scandals, including Operation Varsity Blues. 

“My view is that the Board has developed a really good muscle to be able to deal with both the positive and the negative,” said Nora Johnson in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “I think the good news is, right now, hopefully some of the big scandals of the past are behind us.” 

Folt said that the transition from Caruso to Nora Johnson is “really in a good place,” and that “everybody’s excited about a new personality” in the chair’s position. 

“I think I have an outstanding board chair again to take us into the next level of all the exciting things we see ahead,” said Folt in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “As everybody knows, we may be facing some pretty difficult financial moments in the country right now, and she’s a fabulous board chair in that respect too.” 

Nora Johnson currently serves as board chair and chair of the Compensation Committee for Intuit, chair of the Audit Committee at Pfizer and co-chair of the Brookings Institution. She previously served as the former vice chair of the Goldman Sachs Group. There, she also served as the chair of the firm’s Global Markets Institute and a member of the firm’s management committee. She has also served in various positions on other boards, including the Broad Foundation and America’s Frontier Fund.

Nora Johnson joined the Board of Trustees in 1998, and served on committees devoted to University leadership, including the Presidential Search Advisory Committee and other search committees that led to the hiring of Chief Investment Officer Amy Diamond and Athletic Director Mike Bohn. She also served as head of the Board’s Investment Committee when the University eliminated its investment in fossil fuels in February 2021. 

She was also one of the trustees who advocated for increased accountability across the Board when Caruso was first elected chair, working with the rest of the Board to conduct “pretty comprehensive governance review and reform.” The changes included reducing the number of voting members and committees on the Board, implementing age and term limits and increasing the diversity of its members. 

In her first communitywide email as chair, Nora Johnson wrote that it is a “historic time for USC to establish a pivotal leadership role” in each of Folt’s four “moonshots,” including improving access and affordability, advancing sustainability and promoting research and healthcare. 

“On the moonshot goals in particular, [my goal is] really to have very thoughtful conversations about what the moonshots are, what the goals are, what the resources necessary are to accomplish them and then any other kinds of tools, advice, analysis that [the administration] wants from the Board to help them achieve that,” Nora Johnson said.

As Nora Johnson transitions into the role, she said that the Board wants to be “very engaged with the different constituencies of the University,” especially coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Prior to COVID, we were talking about what were more touch points between trustees and students, or trustees and faculty or trustees and the community and staff,” Nora Johnson said. “I think you’ll see those things become more robust again and just a higher level of engagement.” 

Nora Johnson graduated from USC in 1979 with her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in economics, philosophy/religion and political science, before receiving her juris doctorate degree from Harvard Law School. In her email, she wrote that “USC’s traditions and history have remained a deep source of pride and gratitude” since she enrolled at the University as a first-year student from Chicago. 

“I am really excited about [the role],” she said. “I feel like we have a unique opportunity to bring people together in common cause and common purpose and common missions. I just want to make sure we continue to build on that.”