RWJBarnabas Health names Owens board chair; first African American to hold position

A day after it was announced that Marc Berson will conclude his three-year term as chair of the RWJBarnabas Health board of trustees, Lester Owens was named as his successor.

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 chair 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 and is responsible for building a more unified, integrated approach to Wells Fargo’s business operations functions. 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,” said Barry Ostrowsky, CEO of RWJBarnabas Health. “His leadership and expertise have been tremendous assets to our organization and will be instrumental to our continued growth.”

As evidence of his belief in service to the community, Owens has lent his time and knowledge to numerous nonprofit organizations devoted to expanding the reach of higher education, particularly in communities where such opportunities have been scarce.

“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. 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 stated.

In his new role, Owens will continue to drive a key RWJBarnabas Health focus on providing accessible, high-quality health care to the citizens of New Jersey. Among his priorities will include the ongoing work to transform the patient experience, advance mental and behavioral health for individuals across the lifespan and drive social impact through strategic programs and policies that ensure health equity and address the social, economic and environmental conditions that have a significant effect on health outcomes. He will work to advance the academic health care system and expand the partnerships with Rutgers University. He will also work closely with the system’s executive leadership to build on the tremendous successes that have helped to position RWJBarnabas Health as a world-class academic health institution.