A Few Things to Know About the New Head of the Moore Foundation

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore has given away a fortune through the foundation named after him and his wife Betty, but he still has vast wealth sitting on the sidelines, estimated at $6.5 billion. And given that he and Betty have signed the Giving Pledge, we expect that much of that money is destined for philanthropy.

This bright future, along with the Moore Foundation's already large endowment (over $5 billion) and annual grantmaking ($233 million in 2012), makes it a good idea to keep an eye on who's running the place.

Today, the foundation named a new president, Harvey Fineberg. Here are a few things to know about him:

1. He's a heavyweight in the healthcare field 

The last time Gordon Moore was looking for someone to run his foundation, he chose a top environmental leader, Steve McCormick. This time, Moore is picking a major figure in public health, which is another area where the foundation focuses its work. Fineberg recently finished a long stint at the Institute of Medicine, where he worked on a range of health policy issues. Before that, he was provost at Harvard, where he also spent 13 years as dean of the school of public health. 

Fineberg has been involved in all sorts of organizations and initiatives in the healthcare field. When Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health gave him the Calderone Prize in 2011, this is what Dean Linda Fried said about Fineberg:

Throughout his career, Harvey Fineberg has helped shape our nation's understanding of the importance of disease prevention as a critical component of our health system and the value of investing in high quality public health education to accomplish this. At the Institute of Medicine, he has advanced the goals of improving the quality of medical care and integrating prevention into our nation’s health agenda. 

That background is notable at a time when many health funders are ramping up their investments in prevention and the broad goal of making Americans healthier. Also, it can't hurt to have a guy who co-authored a book on Swine Flu in charge of a major foundation at time when the risks from epidemics are very much on people's minds. 

One other thing about Finenberg's health background: He knows a thing or two about wasted healthcare dollars, since the Institute of Medicine released a big report under his watch that estimated that "the American medical system squanders 30 cents of every dollar spent on health care," as the New York Times said in its coverage of the report. Fineberg is also an expert on technological innovation in healthcare, which is one of the biggest drivers of rising healthcare costs. 

While the Moore Foundation tells me that Fineberg's appointment doesn't signal any expansion of its healthcare funding, it's hard to imagine that the foundation won't go deeper into this area with Fineberg at the helm. Long-time observers of the foundation will know that the healthcare work began after the signature initiatives on conservation and science, and is especially important to Betty Moore. Could the foundation emerge as a much bigger funder in health? Well, it's always had the money to do so; now it has the leader. 

2. He's not a newcomer to philanthropy

Problems can ensue when a foundation chooses a top person from outside of philanthropy, since they can find it difficult adjust to the supremely odd business of big-time grantmaking and the uniquely strange world of large foundations. 

But Harvey Fineberg won't be walking into Moore as a total newbie. He's been a board member of the Hewlett Foundation since 2003, which is enough time to learn how foundations operate and achieve impact. He also sits on the board of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.  

That experience should lessen the risk that this will end up as a bad match in some way, in the unlikely event that Fineberg discovers he doesn't really like his new life, or the folks at Moore realize that he's clueless about grantmaking. It's worth remembering that Steve McCormick only lasted six years as president of the foundation. 

Related: Four Theories on Why Steve McCormick is Leaving the Moore Foundation

3. He spent most of his career at Harvard

The No. 1 question of many grantseekers sizing up Harvey Fineberg may be this: How can we get to this guy? Here's some advice: Start with your Harvard connections. Fineberg is, like, Mr. Harvard. He got his undergrad degree there, his MD, a master's from the Kennedy School, and a Ph.D in government. Then he held different top jobs there. Even his first name is nearly the same. As the Crimson said about Fineberg when he was provost: "He arrived at Harvard in 1963 as an undergraduateand never left."

Fineberg has now been in sunny California for some time, but the Harvard ties surely go both deep and wide, and identifying connections to Fineberg from those years can only be helpful to grantseekers. 

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Fineberg has spent his career in the upper reaches of the elite. How much can somebody like this be expected to truly think outside the box or do things differently? I guess we'll see. In any case, it's not clear that Gordon Moore is looking to turn his foundation into a hotbed of cutting-edge thinking, even if he made his billions as an innovator.

And that drives home a funny thing we've noticed about tech philanthropy. People who earned their fortunes reinventing how the world works often show zero interest in reinventing how philanthropy works, or the fields in which they fund. Strange.