Business and community leader has had influence on the most consequential projects in WNY including airport, waterfront, Medical Campus, education, and more
The John R. Oishei Foundation announced today that Robert D. Gioia will retire as President at the end of 2021. The experienced and influential Western New York business executive and community leader has led one of the largest and most comprehensive private Foundations in Western New York since 2007 when he succeeded Thomas Baker as President.
His retirement caps a distinguished career in the private and philanthropic sector, along with significant community service that has had deep impact on WNY. Gioia will continue his civic involvement, remaining as Chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., Great Lakes Health, and Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology, as well as several other board and civic commitments.
Gioia has overseen a team that has directed more than 2,300 grants totaling $240 million, touching almost every facet of WNY through the Foundation’s five focus areas of education, healthcare, neighborhood stabilization, self-sufficiency, and the arts, culture & heritage. The Foundation has made these investments while growing assets to over $300M to secure the future of the Foundation and continued support for the community.
In his 15-year tenure with the Foundation, Gioia expanded the role of philanthropy in WNY, building greater focus on “beyond grantmaking” initiatives that offer capacity building and other supports to strengthen the nonprofit ecosystem in Western New York. He increased the staff from four to ten, adding positions focused on philanthropic support; on research, strategy, and evaluation; and on communications to better serve the needs of the nonprofit community.
Gioia commented, “Leading the Oishei Foundation has been one of the greatest honors of my professional career. The decision to step down was not taken lightly, but I firmly believe that after 15 years, and particularly as the Foundation embarks on its strategic planning process in 2022, that the time was right for the next generation of leadership. My commitment to our community has never been stronger and I am looking forward to new challenges and spending time with my family.”
Under Gioia’s direction, the Foundation has been a leader in supporting some of the most notable and consequential projects in the Buffalo-Niagara region such as developments on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that include building UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and moving The John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital to the campus for which the Foundation made a $10 million commitment. Other significant support has gone to Buffalo’s waterfront, the expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, to be known as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, the creation of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, as well as significant support in education, healthcare, social services, and cultural institutions.
William G. Gisel, Chair of the Oishei Foundation board commented, “We have tremendous appreciation for Robert’s skilled and generous leadership, both as Foundation President and as a community leader. Under his guidance, the Foundation has contributed significantly to Western New York’s renaissance and has also been a critical support in the most challenging of times, including the 2008 recession and, more recently, during the COVID-19 crisis. The Foundation is well-positioned for the future because of Robert's insight and acumen, and the Board of Directors is enormously grateful for his deep commitment to the WNY community.”
Gioia has been an ardent champion for improving education in WNY. He helped to build community support and to persuade educational leadership in New York State to bring Say Yes to Buffalo in 2011, and it was his idea to create the Children First Scholarship that offered families looking for alternatives to the Buffalo Public Schools an opportunity to attend Catholic schools. He was also key in the creation of Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology (BCAT), based on a nationally recognized arts and training center model built by the Manchester Bidwell Corporation and Bill Strickland. BCAT provides career pathways for disadvantaged adults and helps youth to stay in school through an arts and technology afterschool program.
More recently, Gioia has been an important advocate and promoter of the Foundation’s diversity, equity & inclusion work, exemplified by the Foundation’s public commitment to racial equity in 2018 and the development of programs supporting nonprofit leaders of color. He also led the Foundation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, working immediately with other local funders to create the WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund, and directing significant funding and staff resources to the effort. The Fund has contributed $13.1 million to more than 400 WNY nonprofit organizations in response to the health and economic crisis.
Gioia has been an effective and inspiring community leader and an important voice dedicated to the betterment of the Buffalo-Niagara region for decades. He has served as Chair of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation since 2012, overseeing significant revitalization that has transformed Buffalo’s waterfront and now attracts more than 1.5 million visitors annually. He also serves as Chair of Great Lakes Health, a not-for-profit corporation that oversees some of the area’s largest health care and research partners to improve access to and the quality of health care delivery in the region.
Governor Hugh Carey appointed Gioia to the Board of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) in 1979 and Governor Mario Cuomo appointed him Chair in 1990, where he pioneered completion of the $120 million Buffalo-Niagara International Airport on time and under budget. Gioia has also served as Chairman of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Board President of the Martin House Restoration Corporation, Board Chair of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Board President of Nichols School, and a Trustee of St. Lawrence University. A lifelong Buffalo resident, Gioia has been named one of The Buffalo News’ Citizens of the Year three times.
He began his career in 1970 as a part of the third generation operating the Gioia Macaroni Company. He stayed on after the company was sold in 1976 to U.K-based Rank Hovis McDougall Ltd, and then joined Red Wing Food Products in 1982. From 1992 to 2007, he was a principal with the Food Group of Strategic Investments and Holdings, Inc., one of the most experienced equity acquisition firms in the nation today.
The Oishei Board of Directors has engaged Koya Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in leading mission-driven searches at the senior level, to conduct a national search for Gioia’s successor. The Search Committee plans to identify a candidate by late 2021. If you are interested in the opportunity, or would like to recommend a potential candidate, you can reach the Koya search team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The John R. Oishei Foundation is the most comprehensive private foundation in Western New York focusing on a broad range of interrelated issues and offering philanthropic support that goes far beyond funding. Our mission is to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership, and network building. The Foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.
Read the Buffalo News Editorial: Under Gioia’s leadership at the Oishei Foundation, Buffalo made giant strides