Atlantic Philanthropies announced today that it has chosen Christopher Oechsli, who has been serving as interim leader since June, as the foundation’s new president.
Mr. Oechsli, 57, is a lawyer who has served recently as counsel to Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin, and as associate fellow and project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank.
He is also a former employee of Atlantic, the philanthropy started by Charles Feeney, the billionaire co-founder of the Duty Free Shops empire.
Mr. Oechsli oversaw grants on “population health” from 2000 to 2005. He also worked at the General Atlantic Group, an investment firm started by Mr. Feeney.
“Chris Oechsli’s unique expertise in business, law, philanthropy, and policy, coupled with his knowledge of Atlantic’s history and vision, make him the ideal person to lead the foundation,” Mr. Feeney said in a statement.
Mr. Oechsli succeeds Gara LaMarche, who announced in June that he would be stepping down.
Mr. LaMarche, a former employee of the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, said he was leaving in part because Atlantic planned to focus less intensively on social-justice grant making during its waning years. The foundation is spending all of its assets in the next few years so it can close its doors by 2020.
That announcement set off concern among progressive advocacy groups that have relied on Atlantic for much of their support.
Ben Wyskida, a spokesman for Atlantic, said that Mr. Oechsli’s first task will be to conduct a review of the philanthropy’s grant making, something the fund had planned to do regardless of the leadership transition.
Mr. Wyskida said that Atlantic remained committed to “its existing program areas and existing geographies.”
“The focus of this review is really on assessing a level of investment and tactics within our existing programs,” he said.
Mr. Oechsli’s appointment as Atlantic’s leader did not come as a surprise to some grantees and other observers of the nonprofit world, who had thought it was likely he would be tapped to lead the fund on a permanent basis.