About John I. Williams Jr.
John Williams became the 12th president of Muhlenberg College on July 1, 2015. He arrived on the Allentown, Pa., campus with wide-ranging experience, not only in higher education but also in corporate leadership and entrepreneurship.
Born in New York City to a German-American, Lutheran mother and an African-American father, Williams was adopted and raised by African-American parents in suburban Westbury, N.Y. There he attended an Episcopal parish day school, sang in the church choir and served as an acolyte. He went on to the Kent School in Kent, Conn., and then Amherst College, where he was active in student affairs, served as a resident adviser and was a soloist in the glee club. He graduated from Amherst magna cum laude in 1975 with a major in economics.
After earning a J.D. at Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, Williams joined the strategy consulting firm Bain & Co. He was the first person of color ever hired by the firm. At Bain, he consulted for Fortune 100 clients and led case teams for clients across various industries.
He subsequently co-launched Softbridge Microsystems, the first of several successful entrepreneurial ventures that he helped to grow. Williams later joined American Express in New York, where he rose through senior executive positions, including senior vice president of strategic planning, head of the U.S. Platinum Card business and head of the U.S. Consumer Travel Network.
Hearing the call of the then-nascent Internet, Williams became CEO of Biztravel.com in 1996, developing this early dot-com startup into a Webby Award-winning site serving more than 600,000 frequent business travelers.
From 2000 to 2015, Williams focused on entrepreneurial ventures and on nonprofit and higher education consulting, working with, for example, Eduventures, the Bridgespan Group and several colleges and universities. He also served from 2011 to 2015 as an expert-in-residence at Harvard’s Innovation Lab.
Record of Service
Williams has served his undergraduate alma mater with distinction. He was first elected by the alumni to the Amherst board of trustees in 1984. His fellow trustees elected him to a second six-year term before electing him as a life trustee in 1996.
A strong supporter of campus diversity in the broadest sense, Williams is a former board member of Prep for Prep, which prepares promising students of color to excel at private schools and then to thrive at the best colleges. He is also a former board member of Boston’s Museum of African-American History and serves as a trustee of Kent School. Williams is fully engaged in the Allentown and Lehigh Valley communities. He is a member of the Lehigh Valley Partnership and serves on the board of directors of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges, the Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts and the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (overseeing the re-development of downtown Allentown).
Family and Interests
Williams and his wife, Diane Pierce-Williams, met as students at Harvard Law School and married in 1986. They have three adult children and one grandchild. His wife is a former member of the faculty of the Loyola University New Orleans’ College of Law and a former trustee of Hampshire and Goucher colleges.
Williams has traveled extensively throughout the United States and to more than 40 countries—either on business, for pleasure or on concert tours as a member of the Mastersingers chorus. A licensed pilot since 1984, he has progressed to the airline transport pilot designation, the FAA's highest and most exacting for single- and multi-engine aircraft. He has logged more than 2,500 flight hours.
Presidents of Muhlenberg College, 1848-2015
1848-1867 - Four principals of the Allentown Seminary, President of the Allentown Collegiate and Military Institute and a President of the Allentown Collegiate Institute
1867-1876 - Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg
1877-1885 - J.P. Benjamin Sadtler
1886-1903 - Theodore Lorenzo Seip
1903-1904 - William Wackernagel (acting)
1904-1936 - John A.W. Haas
1936-1937 - Robert C. Horn (acting)
1937-1951 - Levering Tyson
1951-1952 - Quintity (five-man acting committee)
1952-1953 - Morris S. Greth (acting)
1953-1961 - J. Conrad Seegers
1961-1969 - Erling N. Jensen
1969-1984 - John H. Morey
1984-1992 - Jonathan C. Messerli
1992-2002 - Arthur R. Taylor
2002-2003 - James B. Steffy (acting)
2003-2015 - Peyton R. Helm
2015- - John I. Williams, Jr.