January 24, 2023 – Russell Reynolds Associates has been enlisted to find the next lab director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in east Tennessee. Last July, Thomas Zacharia announced his retirement after more than five years in the role and 35 years with ORNL. Jeff Smith, who was ORNL’s chief operating officer from 2000 to 2021, has been serving at interim director since the beginning of the year. The University of Tennessee and Battelle Memorial Institute co-manage ORNL for the U.S. Department of Energy through UT-Battelle, a 50-50 limited liability partnership.
The UT-Battelle board of governors wants a widely recognized science and technology leader, with demonstrated abilities to drive scientific, engineering, and technical excellence and mission impact to serve in the role, said Russell Reynolds Associates. “The lab director must be capable of managing a large, complex research and development institution and possess an understanding of the importance of integrating fundamental research and applied research and development to deliver impactful outcomes,” said the search firm.
ORNL is a world-class research and development institution assigned important DOE missions in fundamental science, energy, and national security. ORNL operates several national user facilities and has a diverse portfolio of research and development. This diversity requires an approachable and empowering leader capable of being conversant in multiple technical fields, with excellent strategic insight, and skillful management of a broad range of skills, capabilities, operational hazards, and risks, said Russell Reynolds Associates. Moreover, the lab director must be a national thought leader in ensuring the continued importance of science and technology in solving major challenges in fundamental science, energy, environment, and security.
ORNL is responsible for multiple, highly complex, multi-year and multi-billion-dollar technical programs and projects. The lab director must understand the rigor and diverse skill-sets necessary to successfully deliver these initiatives in an integrated fashion.
This leader must also be a collaborator, able to seek out, nurture relationships, and team with R&D partners from other laboratories, universities, and industry.
Key responsibilities of the role include creating a compelling shared vision and associated strategy for a complex research and development organization, and gaining commitment, trust, and ownership for success across the diversity of internal and external stakeholders, said the search firm. This individual must also provide national science and technology leadership to ensure ORNL is a key provider of world-class science and engineering to address large, complex challenges in fundamental science, energy, environment, and security.
Candidates must have the ability to actively listen with the intention to learn and understand needs of internal and external constituents and balance the priorities of a diverse workforce with deliverables of a complex scientific and engineering organization, said Russell Reynolds Associates. A demonstrated commitment to the development of staff and leadership within the framework of diversity, equity, and inclusion as the path to excellence is also required.
Prospects should have outstanding credentials alongside a demonstrated record of scientific and technical achievement, including an earned doctorate, in a relevant field or an equivalent combination of education and experience. Also essential is a record of ability to create and implement a shared vision and strategy, to align and empower staff and resources to achieve goals through integration and teamwork.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory. ORNL was established in 1943 as a part of the secret Manhattan Project to pioneer a method for producing and separating plutonium. During the 1950s and 1960s, ORNL became an international center for the study of nuclear energy and related research in the physical and life sciences. With the creation of DOE in the 1970s, ORNL’s mission broadened to include a variety of energy technologies and strategies. Managed since April 2000 by a partnership of the University of Tennessee and Battelle, the organization today hosts scientific research across a range of fields, from supercomputing to isotope production.
Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leadership advisory and search firm. Its 520-plus consultants in 47 offices work with public, private, and non-profit organizations across all industries and regions. The firm also conducts in-depth organizational culture assessment and measures the cultural fit of key leadership and candidates in the following areas: arts and culture, global development, higher education, non-profit health and human services, public sector, social justice and advocacy, as well as trade and professional associations.
Russell Reynolds provides executive search services across all areas of the global media, entertainment, technology, and athletics markets. The firm’s consultants bring the experience and ability to assess competencies and cultural fit of board members, CEOs, senior functional leadership, and players, with expertise in professional sports teams and leagues (CEOs, general managers, coaches, and players); digital, media, and entertainment; and technology-based start-ups.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media