Walter Isaacson announces resignation from Aspen Institute |

Walter Isaacson announces resignation from Aspen Institute

Walter Isaacson
Ed Kosmicki | Special to the Weekly |

Walter Isaacson has spent the past 14 years as president CEO of Aspen Institute but Tuesday he announced his resignation, which will take effect at the end of the year.

Isaacson, who turns 65 in May, has been at the helm of the Washington, D.C.-based thinktank since 2004. A year later he started the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual summer event that attracts a high-profile collection of speakers who have included domestic and foreign dignitaries and leaders. Isaacson, whose interview subjects in Aspen have ranged from Lance Armstrong to Bill Clinton to Karl Rove, said he will hold down his regular role as a moderator at the upcoming Ideas Festival, set June 22 through July 1.

He also partnered with Colorado Mountain College to create the Isaacson School for New Media, which focuses on digital media, in 2012.

“There’s no strong reason for me leaving,” he told The Aspen Times. “It’s the best job in America, and I thought I’d keep it for seven years, which is the usual rotation. Now it’s been 14.”

A native of New Orleans, Isaacson said he will return to the Crescent City to join Tulane University’s history department as a professor in January. Mayor Mitch Landrieu also named Isaacson, who has a home New Orleans, to the city’s planning commission in November. Additionally, Isaacson will serve as an advisory partner at the financial service firm Perella Weinberg.

“It’s about time I move onto another chapter after 14 years,” said Isaacson, a former CEO of CNN News Group and author whose most recent effort came in 2014 with “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.” Isaacson said he will continue to work on future novels.

“When I came to the Aspen Institute, lured in by Charlie Firestone and Peggy Clark, I had some important goals, ones that we’ve added to collaboratively over the years,” he wrote in an email that went out to institute colleagues Tuesday. “Together, I think we have accomplished a lot.”

Those feats, in addition to the Ideas Fest, included a public program division, the evolution of the Henry Crown Program into “a global leaders’ network of more than 2,200 fellows from 50 countries” and improvements on organization’s Aspen campus, his email said.

A memo from Aspen Institute board of trustees chairman James S. Crown praised Isaacson for his work, saying he will leave the nonprofit “in the strongest position in its history.”

“Since Walter became President and CEO, the Institute has grown in eminence, reach and accomplishment,” Crown’s memo said. “It remains a venue for leaders of diverse skills and views to address some of the world’s most complex problems. Walter’s vision, energy and intellect have driven the Institute to have a global footprint, powerful impact and to establish itself as a trusted voice.”

Institute trustees such as Madeleine K. Albright and Condoleezza Rice, both former secretaries of state, also offered prepared statements about Isaacson’s departure.

“Walter breathed new life into the Aspen Institute. He brought brains, brilliance, and energy to a beloved institution,” Albright said. “His endless curiosity was reflected in the myriad programs that make up the Aspen mission. Walter will always be an inspiration to those who want to think about how to improve our vision and our capacity to make a difference in the world around us.”

Rice offered, “Walter has been an extraordinary leader for the Aspen Institute. He has brought energy, focus and clarity to its mission. The best that can ever be said of a leader is that he left an institution better than he found it. That can be said emphatically of Walter’s tenure. We will miss him but I know that he will stay involved and committed to the Aspen Institute and its work.”

In an interview published in The Aspen Times in January, Isaacson addressed the potential impacts of President Donald Trump on the Institute, which was able to tap Obama administration officials in its various programs.

“It’s always been the mission of the Institute to have respectful dialog,” he said at the time. “That’s endangered these days in the hyper-intense, hyper-partisan shout fest that’s been happening over the last few years, not just with Trump, but in the media and politics. We should be a calming place where people can meet face to face and try to understand differences in policies but find solutions based on common values.”

His resignation email to colleagues also played off that theme.

“Our work is now more important than ever,” he wrote. “At a time of heightened discord, poisoned debate, and odious whiffs of intolerance, we have to be stalwart, energetic, and confident in pursuing our mission of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and political leanings to find commonsense solutions based on enduring values, nurturing new leaders, sharing creative ideas in an open-minded manner, and trying to make our world a better place.”

In the meantime a search committee of the Institute, which was founded in Aspen in 1950 in large part by Aspen visionary and Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke, “will begin work to find Walter’s successor in short order,” Crown wrote.

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