Owens named chairperson of RWJBarnabas Health board

Lester J. Owens

WEST ORANGE, NJ — On June 28, RWJBarnabas Health announced the appointment of Lester J. Owens as the new chairperson of its board of trustees, effective immediately. Owens will be the first African American to hold this position in the system.

A founding member of the board, Owens has served as vice chairperson since 2019 and has served on its audit, compliance, compensation, nominating and governance, as well as racism and social justice, committees. He is also a longtime trustee of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where he has served on the compensation, finance, pediatric program and investment committees.

Owens serves on the operating committee and is the senior executive vice president and head of operations for Wells Fargo & Co., where he oversees a team of more than 70,000 employees. Prior to joining Wells Fargo, Owens was the global head of operations at BNY Mellon. He has also led significant operations functions for JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Citibank and Bankers Trust.

“Lester has been at the helm of some of the largest and most well-known companies in the world, consistently managing complex, multifaceted projects with skill and dedication,” RWJBarnabas Health CEO Barry H. Ostrowsky said. “His leadership and expertise have been tremendous assets to our organization and will be instrumental to our continued growth.”

“I feel very privileged to take on this role at such a pivotal moment for health care, as the needs of RWJBarnabas Health’s patients, employees, communities and other stakeholders are quickly evolving,” Owens said. “The system is wholly committed to its mission of improving the health, quality of life and vitality of the communities it serves. It has approached this in thoughtful and innovative ways that will benefit all stakeholders for years to come.”

Owens earned a Bachelor of Arts from Long Island University and an Executive MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. 

“We are pleased to welcome Lester as our new board chair,” RWJBarnabas Health President Mark Manigan said. “His voice and vision will help RWJBarnabas Health continue to make a positive impact on the health and well-being of the communities we serve.”

Susan Reinhard, a nurse, was named vice chairperson of the board; she has served as a founding member of the corporate board since 2016 and serves on the compliance and strategic planning/academic affairs committee, and is chairperson of the quality committee. She has also served on the board of directors for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital since 2013 and has served on its finance, strategic planning and quality committees. Reinhard is the senior vice president and director for the AARP Public Policy Institute, and chief strategist of the Center to Champion Nursing in America and Family Caregiving Initiatives, where she oversees teams working on health security, financial security, and family, home and community issues. 

Previously, Reinhard was professor and co-director of the Rutgers University Center for State Health Policy. She also served as deputy commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2002 to 2005. In that role, Reinhard served three governors from both political parties. She earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and a Master of Science in Nursing from University of Cincinnati.

In other action, Richard J. Kogan was named trustee emeritus for the board. In addition to his work for the system, he had been an active member of the Saint Barnabas — now Cooperman Barnabas — Medical Center board of trustees since 1992 and had served as its chairperson for several years. Prior to that, he served as vice chairperson of the SBMC board, and was also a vice chairperson of Barnabas Health.

Marc E. Berson

And finally, Marc E. Berson concluded his successful three-year term as chairperson. Berson’s tenure as board chairperson will forever be known as a transformational time of growth for the health care system, according to a press release.

A longstanding advocate for RWJBarnabas Health, Berson served as chairperson of the board since 2019. He has also been chairperson of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, both RWJBarnabas Health facilities.

Berson served as chairperson of Barnabas Health in 2016, when the merger of Barnabas Health and Robert Wood Johnson Health System formed RWJBarnabas Health. RWJBarnabas Health has since grown into a $6.5 billion health system.

“Marc’s influence goes well beyond the boardroom at RWJBarnabas Health. He cares deeply about our mission and has dedicated himself wholeheartedly to our organization for many years,” Ostrowsky said. “Marc not only helped to build our strategic vision, he was a true partner in executing on initiatives to improve health care delivery that continue to be transformative for our communities.”

Berson is an established entrepreneur, attorney and philanthropist with a focus in real estate development and operating manufacturing and service businesses. He is chairperson of the Fidelco Group and of the Fidelco Realty Group, an owner-developer of residential, commercial, retail and industrial properties in the New Jersey, New York, Florida and Ohio markets, which he founded in 1981. Capitalizing on Fidelco’s success developing distinct destinations in overlooked inner-city neighborhoods, Berson has invested in a wide range of properties in urban areas throughout the country, including in his birthplace and the center of his civic and philanthropic endeavors: Newark. 

“Marc has been a tremendous advocate for our community, championing our system’s social impact work and prioritizing health outside the hospital walls,” Manigan said. “We are incredibly grateful for his steady leadership and support for our teams and our communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Marc is a true ambassador for RWJBarnabas Health.”

Berson will continue to serve as a member of the RWJBarnabas Health board and as chairperson emeritus at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

“I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented, passionate and dedicated professionals. My appreciation and admiration for Barry Ostrowsky and his team and for my fellow trustees on the corporate board and the individual hospital boards is boundless,” Berson said. “There can be no more noble effort or greater responsibility than to deliver high quality health care to our fellow citizens. I’m confident the next generation of RWJBH leaders will continue to advance our mission with great success and I look forward to working with them.”