David L. Cohen, who has led the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees for more than a decade, will step down as chair in July.
Taking his place will be board vice chair Scott L. Bok, 61, an alumnus and investment banker who lives in New York City and has served on the board since 2005, the university announced Thursday.
The transition comes as the Ivy League university may be faced with launching a search for a new university president. The current contract for Amy Gutmann, who has served as Penn’s president since 2004, is set to expire in June 2022, and she is widely considered likely to leave at that point.
Finding Penn’s next president likely will be the most important task of his tenure, Bok said in an interview.
“Very large shoes to fill, Amy Gutmann has been an extraordinary leader,” he said of Gutmann, 71, who will have 18 years at the helm when her contract expires, making her Penn’s longest-serving president.
No decisions have been made on launching a search, he said, but he expects interest in the position to be high, given Penn’s prominent stature.
“I view myself as fortunate to be a caretaker for an extraordinary institution that we hope to make even better,” he said.
Cohen said Bok’s leadership will be key.
“At a time when our country and higher education are facing many unique challenges, it is critical to have someone with Scott’s depth of knowledge and commitment … ,” Cohen said. “He will be a tremendous chair and will assume this important leadership position with the full and unanimous support of the board.”
Bok is chairman and chief executive officer of Greenhill & Co. Inc., an independent investment bank. He became managing director there in 1997.
“He brings decades of expertise in the business and financial world to bear, the firsthand experience of being a triple Penn degree holder and a double Penn parent, and I know he will provide wise counsel to the trustees and university leadership,” Gutmann said.
Bok got his first Penn degrees in 1981, a bachelor’s in political science and in economics from Wharton. He got a Penn law degree in 1984. His son, Elliot, graduated from Wharton in 2017 and his daughter, Jane, is a junior.
A native of Michigan, Bok also chairs the board of New York-based Prep for Prep, which helps prepare students of color for college and offers support while they are there. Twenty-one current Penn students hail from the program and 188 have graduated from Penn, he said.
“They’ve gone on to be Rhodes scholars, doctors, partners in law firms,” he said.
He and his wife, Roxanne Conisha Bok, a 1981 Penn alumna, established a professorship in the humanities and in 1996 created a visiting writers series fund.
During his undergraduate years, he wrote for the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper.
“I think I wrote 100 stories while I was there,” Bok recalled.
A first-generation college student, Bok said Penn offered “an amazing smorgasbord of opportunities” and it’s where he met his wife, who moved in across the hall from him. During his sophomore year, Penn made its historic trip to the Final Four in basketball, a highlight of his undergraduate years.
Cohen, 65, who has led the board since November 2009, will remain as a member. He also last December stepped away from his operational roles at Comcast but continues as senior executive vice president. He is scheduled to transition to senior adviser to the CEO in 2021.
“He has been absolutely tireless in his commitment to Penn,” Gutmann said of Cohen, “and the university is so much better because of his stewardship.”