Michael A. Cawley, president and chief executive officer of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, has announced that he will retire on April 30, 2012, after more than 20 years of service to Oklahoma’s largest private foundation.

Cawley is the longest tenured president in the Noble Foundation’s 65-year history. Under his leadership, the Noble Foundation has experienced the largest growth in programs and infrastructure since it was founded in 1945.

“I am confident that the timing for this transition is right for both the institution and myself and my family,” said Cawley, 64.  “While I look forward to retirement and more time with my family, the next year will be business as usual for the Noble Foundation and me. We will continue to assist regional agricultural producers and land stewards and conduct world-class plant science research.”

Russell “Rusty” Noble, a member of the Board of Trustee’s executive committee and founder Lloyd Noble’s grandson, hailed Cawley as a visionary leader. “Mike Cawley has been a thoughtful, devoted steward of the Noble Foundation for more than two decades,” Noble said. “He is a man of integrity, and his leadership has been critical to the growth and success of this organization. The Noble Foundation Board of Trustees and all the employees offer a whole-hearted thanks to Mike for his dedication and tireless pursuit of excellence.”

The Noble Foundation Board of Trustees has retained Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm, to assist in identifying Cawley’s successor.  “As is the duty of any responsible institution, we have been conducting succession planning for several years, anticipating the eventual need for transition,” Noble said. “Because of this preparation and the dedication of our employees, I know that when a successor is identified, the transition will be seamless and uneventful.” 

Cawley was raised in the Oklahoma Panhandle community of Hooker. He attended the University of Oklahoma where he graduated with two undergraduate degrees in economics and English literature. He continued his education at OU, earning a law degree in 1972. Cawley then served his country as a member of the Army before moving to Ardmore where he began a successful law practice. 

Cawley was elected to the Noble Foundation's board of trustees in 1987 and retired from his Ardmore law practice four years later to become the foundation's executive vice president. In 1992, he became the seventh president and chief executive officer in the Noble Foundation’s history.

During Cawley’s tenure, the Noble Foundation experienced tremendous growth. Net assets increased more than 500 percent, and in the last decade, the organization spent more than $100 million expanding its research campus, which doubled its infrastructure to more than 500,000 square feet of research and administration space. The focus of the expansion was to allow the institution to vastly grow its plant science and agriculture research programs to include agronomy, bioenergy, cell and developmental biology, genomics, plant breeding, plant-microbe interactions and plant transformation.

Foundation growth

The growth in programs and infrastructure equaled a growth in personnel as well. When Cawley became president in 1992, the organization employed about 200individuals. Today, the Noble Foundation employs more than 400 individuals from more than 25 countries. The organization has been honored numerous times by The Scientist magazine as one of the best places to work in science.

“I am a lucky man to have been afforded the opportunity to lead the Noble Foundation,” Cawley said.  “The Board of Trustees has been remarkably supportive and the employees are the brightest, most dedicated group of people I’ve ever been associated with. I am honored to be a part of Noble Foundation, and I marvel at the tremendous impact this organization has had and will continue to have on the world. We have found great success as a group because we remain focused on our mission.” 

It’s the Noble Foundation mission – as outlined by Lloyd Noble – that Cawley credits as a guiding force during his tenure leading the organization. “Lloyd Noble’s legacy is defined by so many characteristics. He was a patriot, possessing a great sense of duty. His was generous, always giving to others and his state. But most importantly, he was focused on the proper stewardship of the land, and supporting the agricultural producers who feed this country and the world,” he said. “If I ever felt unsure of a decision, I’d remember these tenets and I’d know which avenue to take.” 

In addition to his role as President and CEO of the Noble Foundation, Cawley is a director of Noble Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NBL) and Noble Corporation (NYSE:NE). He currently serves on the boards of the Glen Foundation, the State Fair of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Heritage Association and the Ardmore Development Authority.

He has also served on the boards of the National Center for Genome Resources and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Oklahoma branch, and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Oklahoma Foundation, among many other local and civic organizations.

Looking forward a year, Cawley said he anticipated continuing his community service, while finding more time to be with his family. “I look forward to the next chapter of my life with great anticipation. Time with my grandchildren is first on the agenda,” he said. “I also cannot wait to see the next phase in the Noble Foundation’s history. I know it will continue to flourish and change lives.”

If a successor has not been identified by his retirement date, Cawley will continue in his current role. Likewise, Cawley plans to retire before his set date if a replacement has been identified and is ready assume the post.