By Chelcey Adami
When Clara Wu Tsai was a student at Stanford in the mid-1980s, she never imagined that she’d one day join the university’s Board of Trustees.
Now, more than 30 years later, the Board of Trustees has elected Wu Tsai as a new member with a five-year term beginning Dec. 1.
“I would have never dreamed of it,” Wu Tsai said while reflecting on when she was an 18-year-old walking into Wilbur Hall. “It goes back to believing in yourself, being patient and treating your life as a journey.”
Wu Tsai is a businesswoman, investor and philanthropist with a lifelong passion for advancing knowledge, culture and arts for the benefit of society.
“We are very fortunate to welcome Clara to the Board of Trustees,” said board Chair Jerry Yang. “Clara brings valuable experience in social and racial justice, business, and philanthropy to Stanford. Clara and her husband, Joe Tsai, are known for their philanthropic commitment to Stanford in the areas of accelerating discovery in neurosciences and optimizing health through human performance. As a trustee, her expertise will be beneficial to the board and university.”
Each board trustee brings their own unique lens and experience, Wu Tsai said, and she hopes to bring her global and domestic perspectives to her new role as trustee.
Wu Tsai was born and raised in Kansas as the daughter of academics. She has lived in the Bay Area, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and now San Diego, as well as Hong Kong for 16 years.
“I’m very interested in working among and between disciplines and I hope to bring that kind of perspective to the discussion,” she said. “It is such an honor. I look forward to learning about and helping to progress the issues and aspirations of the university and of President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.”
Wu Tsai is founder of the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation through which she pursues philanthropic investments advancing knowledge, innovation, artistic creativity and equality by working with global partners to translate new knowledge into practical applications with human, environmental and social impact.
In August 2020, the foundation established a Social Justice Fund focused on economic mobility with a $50 million commitment to drive economic empowerment and address systemic imbalances producing racial gaps in education, health and wealth, with a priority focus on Brooklyn.
Wu Tsai is also a founding partner of the REFORM Alliance, which aims to change probation and parole laws, systems and culture to create pathways to employment and well-being. This year, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice recognized her as a “Champion of Justice” for her social and racial justice work.
At Stanford, she serves as chair of the Neurosciences Institute Advisory Cabinet as well as on the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Advisory Council and the Global Advisory Council. She previously served on the ChEM-H & Neuro Institute Task Force, the Bio-X Advisory Council and her 30th reunion campaign committee.
Wu Tsai said she is “completely thrilled” to join Stanford’s Board of Trustees.
“Stanford leads the way in higher education,” she said. “Through the advisory councils I’ve been on at Stanford, I’ve been impressed with the depth, breadth and range of issues that the administration cares about. I think that the vision is singular and based on values which I share.”
Wu Tsai and her husband made the lead gift for the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford and recently established the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, a public-private partnership of thought leaders and innovators from six research institutions, chaired by a Stanford faculty leader. They have also supported student aid at Stanford.
An important issue facing the board now is “how to serve a broader, more diverse community and how to serve more students,” Wu Tsai said. “How do we continue to deepen scholarship but also contribute to problem-solving in the world? How do we continue to be a beacon of hope?”
Wu Tsai serves on the advisory board of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington and on the board of trustees of New York Presbyterian Hospital and Lincoln Center for Performing Arts.
She was also an executive producer of the 2018 conservation documentary Into the Okavango and the 2021 drama Blue Bayou. Wu Tsai and her husband own the NBA Brooklyn Nets, the WNBA New York Liberty and the NLL San Diego Seals.
Previously, Wu Tsai was general manager of the Hong Kong operations of Taobao, China’s largest online shopping website, and vice president at American Express in New York and Hong Kong.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and master’s degree in international policy studies from Stanford, both in 1988, as well as an MBA ’93 from Harvard.
Wu Tsai has a home in La Jolla. The Tsais have two children who attend Stanford and their youngest is in high school.