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Steve Davis, entrepreneur and rights advocate, to head PATH

Steve Davis, CEO at PATH
Steve Davis, CEO at PATH

Steve Davis has been selected by PATH’s board to take the position of president and CEO.

Davis, a business management and social innovation expert whose primary experience is with McKinsey & Co. , will replace Dr. Chris Elias, who recently left the Seattle-based global health organization to head up the development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Davis is former CEO of the digital media company Corbis (which is owned by Bill Gates) who has in recent years moved more into the global health and development sphere.

In one sense, his new job leading PATH represents a return to where he started — as a refugee settlement coordinator on the Thai-Laos border in the 1980s and later, as a young attorney, working on human rights issues in China, for gay and lesbian rights here in the U.S. and as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised in general.

“This for me is not so much a re-invention as more like coming home,” Davis said today. “I’ve been involved in social justice all my life.”

He’s also been intimately involved in many aspects of Seattle’s emergence as an epicenter for global health. Before leaving Corbis, Davis joined the board after Elias’ appointment to help guide PATH’s rapid growth as a key implementer of many major global health initiatives funded by the Gates Foundation.

“He grew Corbis fast and knew how to help us manage rapid expansion while staying true to PATH’s mission,” said Elias, responding to the news of Davis’ selection as his successor.

Davis has moved into the local global health and development sphere on a number of fronts, serving as interim CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute, a nonprofit biotech firm that works on vaccines, diagnostics, and drug discovery, and currently serves as chair of the board of trustees for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

He is also on the boards of The Seattle Foundation and Global Partnerships, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Davis recently served as interim director of PATH’s India program, an experience that he says rekindled his desire to be more directly involved in efforts to fight poverty.

“That reminded me how much I loved this kind of work,” he said.

PATH’s board of directors had this to say about the Davis coming on June 11 as CEO and president:

“We are delighted to have Steve bring his extensive global health and development expertise and insight to PATH,” said Dr. Molly Joel Coye, chair of PATH’s board of director, in a press release announcing Davis’ selection.“Steve brings a history with PATH as a previous board member and is a proven innovator and versatile leader with a longstanding commitment to social change,” said Coye.

“His deep knowledge of health needs in the developing world and impressive accomplishments in creating solutions tailored for the communities where PATH works immediately stood out among our extraordinarily high-caliber pool of applicants.”

Dr. Coye noted that in addition to a distinguished business career that demonstrates strength across both strategic and operational dimensions, Mr. Davis has committed a significant portion of his career to the social sector, most recently with many of the largest nongovernmental, multilateral, and philanthropic organizations in global health and development.

Mr. Davis will oversee an annual budget of $305 million, a staff of nearly 1,200, and a robust portfolio of projects based in PATH offices in 22 countries. Mr. Davis succeeds former president and CEO Dr. Christopher J. Elias, who led PATH through significant growth for ten years and positioned the organization as an effective leader in global health. Dr. Elias left PATH in January to become president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Davis said he sees his primary task at the helm of PATH as guiding it into a new era where global health and development have become more prominent issues for the international community — at the same time there is greater pressure for impact, for improved efficiencies, accountability and adapting to the ever-changing global economic and political environment.

“The next ten years in global health and development will be very challenging, and interesting,” Davis said. “To begin with, the line that has separated global health and development is being blurred.”

That is, he said, the tendency for efforts to try to solve health problems without also dealing simultaneously with poverty or other socioeconomic drivers of ill health is under siege. “We are entering a new era.”

Chris Elias

One characteristic that most clearly represents a continuum for PATH with respect to Davis succeeding Elias is that they are startlingly similar in appearance. Both are white guys sporting shiny pates, glasses and closely cropped white whiskers. I asked Davis if the PATH board selected him in part based on physical appearance in order to help smooth the transition.

“I can’t comment on that,” he said with a laugh. “All I can say is that whenever my fifteen year-old son sees us together, he can’t help making the same observation.”


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.