Sydney Savion named Vanderbilt’s inaugural vice chancellor for people, culture and belonging

Sydney M. Savion
Sydney M. Savion (submitted photo)

Sydney M. Savion, an international leader in workforce development, organizational culture and employee-centered learning, is the first vice chancellor for people, culture and belonging at Vanderbilt University. Her first day on campus will be Jan. 29, 2024.

“At Vanderbilt, we’re committed to being the premier destination for the most promising staff members and to fostering an environment where each person can thrive professionally and personally,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “Staff are the backbone of our university community, and I’m delighted that Sydney Savion will bring her rich experience, insight and ideas to help Vanderbilt staff reach their fullest potential and gain a greater sense of purpose and belonging in the work they do each day.”

This role, announced by Diermeier in June, will bring together key operational activities that affect the Vanderbilt staff experience, including hiring, professional development, equal opportunity and access, and health and wellness programs. Savion also will make fostering a deep sense of belonging among all community members—helping them feel connected to their colleagues, the institution and its mission—a core focus.

Savion, who will report directly to Diermeier, is charged with shaping best practices related to leadership and employee development, culture and belonging, compensation and benefits, health and wellness, equal access, policy guidance and university strategy. She will collaborate with administrative, academic and interdisciplinary research leaders and serve as a trusted partner. She also will be instrumental in implementing a comprehensive review and transformation of policies, practices and technologies to deliver solutions that attract, retain and engage a diverse workforce that will contribute to Vanderbilt’s identity as a world leader in higher education and an employer of choice.

Several work units will transition from the Division of Administration to report to Savion. These include Human Resources, Equal Access, Payroll and Employee Records, and the Office of Health and Wellness.

Savion has more than 20 years of experience in executive leadership roles, most recently at Google, where she led the mission to create a place where all employees can grow, belong and perform to their fullest potential and build extraordinary careers. This was guided by innovation, strategic design, execution and ongoing management of learning and development for all employees, managers and leaders across the enterprise. Before Google, she was a senior vice president for learning and growth at Cityblock Health, a Google venture focused on clinical care, social mission and health care innovation.

As general manager for learning at Air New Zealand, she worked to shape the workforce and enhance learning, innovation, development and measurement strategies and execution to align with the company’s talent needs and business goals. Other appointments include as chief of education strategy at Dell Technologies and as a learning and performance practitioner at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Savion retired as a commissioned officer from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of reserve and active service. She is the author of Camouflage to Pinstripes: Learning to Thrive in a Civilian Culture, which examines the psychological process veterans face as they reintegrate into civilian life. The book combines academic research and real-life anecdotes to guide readers through the process of navigating changes in culture, identity, awareness and self-renewal.

Savion was recognized with the Chief Learning Officer of the Year award by Human Capital Media in 2020. She serves as an advisory board member and principal consultant of AU Consulting in New Zealand and as an advisory board member of Toronto-based Cognota. A native of Virginia, Savion earned her bachelor’s in environmental health from Old Dominion University and holds an Ed.D. in human and organizational learning from George Washington University.

“I am absolutely thrilled to join the Vanderbilt community at this juncture in its esteemed 150-year history. Being part of the leadership team of an institution renowned for its academic excellence, innovation and collaborative spirit is a profound honor,” Savion said. “We are all guardians, committed to building upon the rich legacy of the university. I look forward to working alongside the exceptional staff, faculty and leadership to fortify a positive and inspiring culture where each individual can learn, grow, thrive and belong.” There will be opportunities for Savion to meet with and hear from the Vanderbilt community in early 2024.

The executive search firm Korn Ferry assisted with the search for the new vice chancellor for people, culture and belonging in collaboration with a university search committee comprised of leaders from across the institution. The search committee members were:

  • Candice Storey Lee (chair), vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletic director
  • G.L. Black, vice provost for student affairs and dean of students
  • Sean Connolly, BA’88, Vanderbilt trustee; CEO and president of Conagra Brands
  • Steve Ertel, vice chancellor for communications and marketing
  • Jess Evans, chief information officer, Vanderbilt University Information Technology
  • LeAnne Huber, chief of staff, Office of Investments
  • Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, Orrin H. Ingram Professor and professor of biomedical engineering
  • Jermaine Soto, senior director for faculty advancement, Office of the Provost
  • August Washington, senior associate vice chancellor for public safety and special initiatives

Savion’s appointment as the inaugural vice chancellor for people, culture and belonging is one of several significant investments the university has made in the staff experience. Others include recent enhancements to the employee retirement plan, the biannual staff assemblies, the Staff Experience Survey, continued progress on the Future of Work initiative, and the employee assistance program launched earlier this year.