John I. William Jr. is first African American to head an ELCA college

(Photo: ELCA)John I. Williams Jr.

John I. Williams Jr. will become the 12th president of Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa. from July 1 and is the first African American to lead an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) higher education institution.

Muhlenberg is one of 26 ELCA colleges and universities.

The college's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to appoint Williams at the conclusion of a national search that began in February 2014, the ELCA said in a statement.

Randy Helm will conclude his 12-year tenure as president of the college June 30.

In a statement to the search committee, Williams wrote: "I am drawn to the opportunity to lead Muhlenberg first by my deep passion for the liberal arts, the performing arts, pre-professional programs and the power of transformational learning more broadly.

"Alumni of liberal arts colleges number disproportionately among the nation and the world's leaders.

"Our nation and our world have never needed graduates of liberal arts colleges more than now," said Williams.

In 1975, Williams earned a Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Amherst College in Amherst, Mass. In 1979, he earned a law degree at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., and master's degree in business administration at Harvard Business School.

Williams joined Bain and Company in Boston, and ELCA said he was the first person of color hired by the firm. Five years later, Williams left Bain to co-launch Softbridge Microsystems.

He also served as vice president of strategic planning at American Express in New York, where he led the U.S. Platinum Card business and the U.S. Consumer Travel Network.

In 1996, Williams left American Express to become the chief executive officer of, and since 2000, he has led a number of entrepreneurial ventures and has engaged in strategy consulting in non profit and higher education sectors.

He led the consulting unit of Eduventures and served as a partner in the higher education practice at The Bridgespan Group.

Williams has worked with a number of colleges, universities and other educational institutions. He also served for the past four years as an expert-in-residence at Harvard's Innovation Lab.

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