A transition of leadership is underway at the Georgia Research Alliance, a pivotal public-private partnership that has catapulted the state into a top place for scientific research and innovation.
Susan Shows, president and CEO since September 2020, has been with GRA for 22 years. She made it official Wednesday, announcing that she’ll retire as CEO on Nov. 1. Shows will remain as a senior advisor to the Alliance until June 20, 2024, to ensure a smooth transition.
The GRA board, at its quarterly board meeting on Wednesday, voted to appoint Timothy Denning, vice president for research and economic development at Georgia State University, as the fifth president and CEO in the 33-year history of the Alliance. His first day at GRA will be Nov. 1.
Denning has led research and commercialization through a period of historic growth at GSU.
Last month, the university announced it had earned just under $225 million in research funding for Fiscal Year 2023, the highest total in the university’s history. GSU has more than 70 research centers, including five university-level enterprises that address critical quality-of-life issues such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, brain health and infectious disease. It is also home to nine members of GRA’s Academy of Scientists.
“It kind of gives me goosebumps that we found someone as capable as Tim,” Shows said in an interview. She described Denning as someone who has been part of GRA’s ecosystem.
David Ratcliffe, GRA’s board chair, agreed.
“Over a 20-year career, Tim Denning has come to know the world of university research inside and out,” Ratcliffe said in a statement. “He brings not only a wealth of experience and expertise to the Alliance but also a deep understanding of how to build partnerships to drive greater results.”
Ratcliffe said GRA creates “extraordinary value” for Georgia by growing the capacity of the state’s “research universities to be more competitive in winning grants and addressing some of the greatest challenges facing our world.”
Denning arrived at Georgia State in 2013, joining the university’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences from a research and academic tenure at Emory University. Two years later, he was appointed associate director of the Institute and, in November 2020, was named vice president for research and economic development. Notably, he has worked in research centers led by two GRA Eminent Scholars — the Emory Vaccine Center, headed by Rafi Ahmed, and Georgia State’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, led by Jian-Dong Li.
At Emory, Denning worked on a number of funded research projects in the School of Medicine. His scientific focus is on the body’s immune response inside the gastrointestinal system, particularly its role in regulating the chronic condition of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). He arrived at Emory in 2004 as a postdoc fellow after holding a similar fellowship at the acclaimed La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego.
“I am delighted to join the GRA team and contribute to the thriving collaboration among research universities, the business sector and state government to drive economic growth in Georgia,” Denning said in a prepared release. “By expanding university research and entrepreneurship in our state, GRA plays a unique role in generating new innovations that benefit the people of Georgia and beyond. I look forward to growing GRA’s impact.”
Denning will be following in Shows’ footsteps. Since joining GRA in 2001 as vice president, working for then-GRA President Mike Cassidy, Shows has been instrumental in shaping the organization. She worked closely with member universities to bring top scientific talent to their campuses, playing an active role in the recruitment of most of GRA’s 78-member Academy of Scientists. She also partnered with university leaders to identify “best investments” in high-tech lab equipment and core research facilities to make Georgia’s institutions more competitive in winning lucrative research grants and contracts.
And 20 years ago, she served as chief architect of GRA’s venture development program, a multi-faceted enterprise that has helped launch 240 high-potential startup companies with operations in Georgia, all based on inventions made by university scientists in Georgia.
While serving in the senior vice president role, Shows placed collaboration and impact at the center of these and other activities. She often brokered working partnerships among scientists and universities and between academia and industry. She also developed the statistical framework for providing funders with accountability for GRA’s performance and its return on the state’s investment in GRA programs.
“GRA owes so much of its success to Susan, and it would not be the organization it is today without her,” Ratcliffe said. “Her early work in GRA’s program areas was both foundational and durable. As president and CEO, she has brought a new level of agility to the Alliance by creating and seizing opportunities to make an impact in agricultural technology, artificial intelligence, Sickle Cell Disease and workforce development. And the taxpayers of Georgia should be pleased to know that GRA’s return on investment grew to $13 billion this year.”
Shows said it has been a privilege to work for the Alliance.
“I have worked alongside so many dedicated and talented people at GRA, at the universities and at our partner organizations,” Shows said. “We are all focused on an important economic development mission that benefits all of Georgia. I’m especially gratified to have helped the universities recruit dozens of renowned scientists we call GRA Eminent Scholars and Distinguished Investigators. Their inventions and R&D productivity have tremendous impact on Georgians and people beyond our state.”
Shows went on to say that there’s a “GRA Way” that is “based on strong and unique collaborations across business, industry and academia, and within academic institutions.” GRA has been heralded as a national model for creating a collaborative spirit among various institutions.
“Those collaborations are not at all common in many other places,” Shows said. “GRA has had a pivotal role in developing some vital and unifying relationships in Georgia. I’m leaving GRA in very good hands, and I know that Tim and the team will continue to protect and pursue partnerships that boost the stature of our state and universities.”
GRA works with eight of the state’s research universities: Augusta University, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Mercer University, Morehouse School of Medicine and the University of Georgia.