Who's Paul Gray, the New Head of the 10th Biggest U.S. Foundation? And What Will He Change?

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is now headed by one of its board members, an electrical engineer with a long history in both academia and the tech industry. Paul Gray is in his seventies, so the chances that he'll be anything beyond GBMF's interim president seem remote following the resignation yesterday of Steven McCormick. 

Still, interim presidents can wield real power—especially if it takes a while to find a permanent replacement. So who is Paul Gray and how might he change GBMF's grantmaking? More to the point, what might this change mean for the foundation's environmental funding? 

Gray was born in Arkansas. His father was a West Point grad and Army officer; his mother came from a family of Arkansas merchants. After his parents divorced, he moved to Tucson, Arizona, with his mother and younger brother, where she supported the family as a school teacher. 

Gray went to the University of Arizona and stuck around for nearly a decade until he finished his PhD in electrical engineering. Then he headed west to Silicon Valley, where he joined one of the hottest outfits of the moment—the Research and Development Laboratory at Fairchild Semiconductor in Palo Alto. Eventually he also worked with Intel, which is presumably where he connected with Gordon Moore. 

Gray went on to have a long and distinguished career at the University of California at Berkeley, holding several positions there including Dean of the College of Engineering and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost.

The Moore Foundation has been a major donor to science research at UC Berkeley, most notably with its $200 million grant to UC Berkeley and CalTech to build the world's largest telescope. The giant telescope grant was announced in 2007. Paul Gray was elected to GBMF's board in 2008, beefing up the board's scientific firepower. 

With construction of the telescope likely to finally move forward this year on Mauna Kea, an island in Hawaii, Paul Gray seems like a good fit take the helm of GBMF, with his long experience dealing with big and complicated science initiatives. This is the foundation's biggest bet ever, remember, and money keeps going out the door—with another $8.2 million grant made in November. 

So, who knows, maybe Gray will stick around for a while. 

As for the other question about changes to grantmaking, it seems like GBMF's grantees can rest easy. In my piece on why McCormick was leaving, I speculated that one reason was that he'd completed a number of changes to the foundation's grantmaking and the direction of things is now set for a while. So it would seem likely that GBMF will stay the course under Gray.

It's when the permanent choice to head Moore shows up and embarks on the inevitable "strategic review" that people should start to fret.