Dallas-Based Think Tank Taps Rice University Head as Its New President, CEO

Legal scholar David Leebron succeeds former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, bringing two decades of organizational leadership to Texas 2036, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy organization founded by Tom Luce.

Dallas-based Texas 2036 announced that former Rice University President David Leebron will join the nonpartisan, nonprofit policy organization as its new president and chief executive officer.

A well-known leader and legal scholar, Leebron succeeds former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and brings over 20 years of experience building impactful organizations to his new post.

“Our state is growing rapidly, and that growth brings long-term challenges that require us to develop smart solutions,” Texas 2016 founder Tom Luce of Dallas said in a statement. “David has a proven track record of thinking long-term, identifying the big challenges, and planning for success, which is exactly what Texas 2036—and Texas—needs at this point in our state’s history.”

Under Leebron’s presidency at Rice, Texas 2036 notes, the university experienced significant expansion in both student population and research endeavors, all while enhancing affordability and accessibility for Texans and students from diverse backgrounds.

In addition, it says, Leebron raised the national and international reputation and profile of the university, and he also focused on its relationship with Houston and worked closely with the Houston mayor and others to build a more impactful relationship with the city, including the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the creation of the Ion, the Houston innovation hub and district.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the impressive and dedicated team that Tom Luce and Margaret Spellings assembled at Texas 2036, and I am honored that the board from across the state selected me as its next president and CEO,” Leebron said in a statement.

He adds: “In today’s polarized political environment, Texas 2036 plays a critical role in bringing people together to advance nonpartisan policies, based on data and research, that address issues vitally important to the future of this state and its people. I am inspired and excited to take on this next challenge and contribute more broadly to the state of Texas and I look forward to building on the momentum and impact that has already been achieved.”

Marc Watts, Texas 2036 board member and president of The Friedkin Group in Houston, said that Leebron was the right choice to lead the organization.

“David is the perfect person to carry forward the long-term, data-driven approach to a changing world that our founder, Tom Luce, envisioned. I know he is eager to bring the kind of strong engagement he fostered across Houston to Texas 2036, where he can positively impact the lives of all Texans as the state approaches its bicentennial,” Watts said in a statement.

According to Watts, the organization has a track record of achieving results across challenges that Texas must address, “but there’s more work to be done.” Watts said Leebron has the “expertise and experience to get strong results—not only for Texas 2036 but for the state.”

Texas 2036 said that Leebron will complete the spring semester at Rice and will begin work as president-designate with the Texas 2036 board, senior management, and staff to define the organization’s strategic direction, meet with policymakers and stakeholders from across the state, and seek opportunities to expand partnerships with research-affiliated institutions before formally assuming the role of president and CEO in the summer.

Leebron will remain on the faculty of Rice University and continue teaching one course there in the fall.

Elaine Mendoza, Texas 2036 legislative committee chair and president and CEO of Conceptual MindWorks Inc. in San Antonio, says the group met with many “exceptional candidates” in its nationwide search, and Leebron’s “strategic approach and experienced leadership stood out.”

In a statement, Mendoza said Leebron’s “dedication to forward-thinking solutions makes him the perfect choice to lead Texas 2036, and I look forward to working with him and the policy team to adopt a robust legislative agenda for next year.”

Texas 2036 is a nonprofit public policy organization committed to building long-term, data-driven strategies to ensure Texas’ prosperity up to its bicentennial and beyond.

It is the leading comprehensive statewide nonpartisan institute for developing long-term solutions grounded in thorough research and focused on issues critical to the lives and livelihoods of all Texans.

Texas 2036 said it has supported the passage of over 120 bills and constitutional amendments that will deliver billions in savings and strategic investments to the state. It said the new laws grow opportunities for all Texans while sustaining Texas’ business climate by strengthening our workforce, reducing healthcare spending, and improving critical infrastructure.

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