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Norris Tolson to Retire as NCBiotech President and CEO

 Norris Tolson speaks at the 2012 AgBiotech Summit

Board begins search for replacement

Norris Tolson, President and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, today announced that he will be stepping down, effective June 30.

The NCBiotech Board of Directors will begin a search for Tolson’s successor. This process will be led by John (Jack) F.A.V. Cecil, vice-chairman of the board and president of Biltmore Farms LLC in Asheville. The Corporate Leadership Committee and the Strategic Oversight Committee will provide input to the process.

“North Carolina is earning more and more recognition as a best practice for development of the life-science sector,” said John Atkins, chairman of the NCBiotech Board of Directors and Chairman and CEO of O’Brien/Atkins Associates in Research Triangle Park.

“That recognition is thanks to the vision of Norris Tolson. We are grateful that he has put his many talents to work to build an infrastructure that creates high-paying jobs for North Carolinians.”

Tolson began his work as President and CEO in July 2007. His leadership emphasized statewide growth of the life science industry, investment in North Carolina’s life science companies, and faster creation of biotech’s high-paying jobs.

“The life sciences were just beginning to gain traction statewide when Norris came on board,” said vice-chair Cecil. “Norris brought a businessman’s focus to achieving results and creating jobs well beyond RTP.”

Tolson created an economic development division at NCBiotech, expanded loan programs for small companies, and added support programs to meet changing industry needs. In 2009, he launched the Ag Biotech Initiative, which pairs the state’s largest economic engine with the tools of biotechnology. North Carolina is emerging as a leader in this sector, with headquarters of three of the top ag biotech firms in RTP.

The results include a biotech workforce of 60,000 at more than 600 locations statewide. North Carolina has the fastest employment growth of top biotech clusters, 23.5 percent from 2001 to 2010. And the industry’s economic ripple effects return $1.7 billion in state and local taxes.

“Life sciences have been a significant and successful investment for North Carolina,” said Art Pappas, board chairman from 2008-2011 and managing partner of Pappas Ventures in Durham. “The Biotechnology Center is a crucial connector for business development and venture capital investments, and Norris’ leadership has focused activities sharply on company formation and job creation.”

Tolson’s tenure at NCBiotech caps a distinguished career, first as a global executive with E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. Tolson held various domestic and international research, marketing and sales responsibilities in the company’s agricultural products and electronics divisions. After retiring from DuPont in 1993, he returned to North Carolina to serve his home state, first in the legislature from 1994-1997 and then in three different cabinet positions. Prior to leading the Center, Tolson served on the organization’s Board of Directors and the Executive Committee.

“Norris has such broad range of talent and experience, and a large capacity to get things done. We knew when we chose him for the post that he would accomplish great things,” said Sue Cole, board chairman in 2007 when Tolson was hired. Cole is now managing partner of SAGE Leadership and Strategy in Greensboro.

“And he has accomplished great things.”

Great accomplishments brought Tolson a long list of recognitions, including the Watauga Medal from his alma mater, NC State, Distinguished Alumnus from the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and induction to the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2013.

With that long career, Tolson, 74, isn’t calling this move retirement. While he hasn’t decided exactly what’s next, a number of projects still draw his attention. He jokes that he signed on for five years, and June 30 will mark the end of seven.

“I have been blessed to have such a tremendous opportunity to lead a strong organization that makes a difference for so many North Carolinians,” Tolson said.

“There is no end to the important work of the Biotech Center, and it’s essential to find the right leader to continue that work. I hope my decision gives the Board time to do so.”

Tolson will continue work on his many boards and his most important work as a husband, father and grandfather.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the N.C. General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.

Editors: A full biography ( and print-ready photograph ( are available online. More NCBiotech images are available at

For more information, contact Robin Deacle, vice president of corporate communications, at or 919-549-8824.


Norris has continued the worldwide innovation and reputation of the NC Biotech Center. He will be missed. Once he gets bored with retirement, I hope he considers using his leadership at The Texas Biotech complex in Houston, Or better,a sabbatical in Norway? Both venues have loads of money, and care about all aspects of Biotech. Salute and mvh (Norwegian). Frank Bell

I know so many incredible women who can lead the charge for this state. We need a change on so many fronts. I believe in this state and hope the leadership continues to reflect the changing dynamics of this industry.

Somehow Norris Tolson and retirement just don't go together in the same sentence. I know he deserves retirement as he has served this state with great leadership for numerous years but some shoes are just to big to be filled by just one person. Thank you Norris for your leadership in NCBiotech.

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