Ambassador to Japan: Who is John Roos?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Until President Barack Obama announced John V. Roos to be the next ambassador to Japan, the assumption among many in the U.S. and Japan was that this posting would go to Harvard professor Joseph Nye, a specialist in international affairs. Instead, the job went to Roos, a Silicon Valley lawyer and one of Obama’s key fundraisers, who has no background in international diplomacy and does not speak Japanese.

Media reports have indicated that Japanese officials were not happy with Obama’s choice of Roos over Nye, whose expected nomination was published in Japanese newspapers. The government in Tokyo is concerned that the new administration is putting more emphasis on the United States’ relationship with China, at the expense of its longtime regional ally. One Japanese paper noted how Obama personally introduced the new ambassador to Beijing (Jon Huntsman), while Roos’ selection was lumped in with a dozen other nominations announced via a press release.
The son of college administrators, Roos was born on February 14, 1955. He grew up in San Francisco and graduated from Lowell High School in 1973. He attended college at Stanford University, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with honors and distinction with a bachelor’s degree in 1977. He then moved up to Stanford Law School, where he met his future wife, Susan, who went on to run her own employment law firm, Cook Roos Wilbur LLP, in San Francisco.
While a Stanford law student, Roos was a member of the Stanford Law Review and Order of the Coif. He founded the Stanford Speech and Debate Institute and developed and taught a speech and debate course for Stanford undergraduate students. It was also at this time that he developed an interest in politics. He took time off in 1979 to work as a White House intern on the domestic policy staff in the Carter administration. He earned his Juris Doctor in 1980.
After passing the bar in 1980, Roos joined the firm of O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles as a litigation associate. In 1984, he took a year off from his legal practice to act as a special assistant to the national co-chairman for Democrat Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign.
In 1985, Roos began what would become a three-decade career with the Silicon Valley-headquartered global law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, known for its representation of technology, life sciences, and growth companies. He made partner in 1988 while specializing in mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, strategic partnerships, and venture financings of technology companies.
In 2000, he actively campaigned for Democrat Bill Bradley’s presidential bid, serving as a senior advisor to the national campaign and chair of the California campaign, as well as treasurer of Time Future, Inc., Bradley’s multi-candidate committee.
Also in 2000, Roos was promoted to serve as Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s managing director of professional services, responsible for resource allocation, business planning, recruiting and hiring, and marketing and business development, among other duties. He also became a member of the firm’s board of directors that year.
During the 2004 presidential contest, Roos served as chair of Democrat John Kerry’s Northern California Finance Committee.
His rise to the top of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati culminated in 2005, becoming the firm’s CEO and putting him in charge of more than 1,500 employees and eight offices (seven in the U.S. and one in Shanghai, China), and overseeing heavyweight clients like Google, eBay and Sun Microsystems.
In addition to playing a role on the Obama campaign’s technology committee, Roos served as a member of the National Finance Committee, and as co-chair of the California Finance Committee, helping raising $75 million for the Illinois Democrat. In the first major fundraiser held at Roos’ Hillsborough home in February 2007, about $300,000 was collected from about 100 attendees.
According to, Roos bundled at least $500,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign. He and his wife have also contributed at least $77,500 to Democrats since the 1992 election cycle, including $6,900 to Obama.
Roos’ other activities include being elected to two consecutive terms on the San Mateo/Foster City Elementary School Board (1991-1998). He was elected president of the board in 1995.
He is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at Stanford Law School and at the Stanford School of Education.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
A Cool Hand on the Wheel at Wilson Sonsini (by Eric Young, San Francisco Business Times)
Japan (AllGov)


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