Columbia Endowment Chief Will Lead Underperforming HMC

UPDATED: September 30, 2016, at 9:30 p.m.

Columbia University endowment manager N.P. Narvekar will serve as the next CEO and president of Harvard Management Company, taking the reins of the world’s largest university endowment at a time of instability, the University announced Thursday evening.

Narvekar, who has managed Columbia’s $9.6 billion endowment since 2002, will be HMC’s fourth CEO in 10 years. Stephen Blyth resigned as the CEO of HMC in July after only 18 months at the helm, citing personal reasons for his departure, and Robert A. Ettl has served as CEO in the interim. When he begins as CEO on Dec. 5, Narvekar could continue to restructure Harvard’s investment model, which some have criticized as inadequate.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston - HMC Office
Harvard Management Company.

The announcement comes a week after HMC posted its worst returns on the endowment since the financial crisis. In fiscal year 2016, HMC returned negative 2 percent on the endowment that, along with the $1.7 billion HMC distributes to fund University operations, contributed to an almost $2 billion reduction in the value of Harvard’s endowment. Harvard’s endowment now stands at $35.7 billion, down from its $37.6 billion valuation in fiscal year 2015. The losses, repeatedly characterized as “disappointing,” will constrain budgets across Harvard, according to University President Drew G. Faust.

Narvekar will lead an endowment whose performance has consistently lagged behind the funds the at peer universities, including Columbia. During a generally subdued year for large institutional investors, Yale returned 3.4 percent, MIT returned 0.8 percent, Stanford returned -.4 percent, and the University of Pennsylvania returned negative 1.4 percent; several other peer institutions have yet to report returns for fiscal year 2016.

While Columbia has not yet announced its returns for fiscal year 2016, its performance under Narvekar has consistently beat HMC’s portfolio growth. Every year since the financial crisis, Columbia’s endowment has grown at a faster rate than Harvard’s. In its 2014 annual report, the Columbia Investment Management Company wrote that it had returned an annualized 11.0 percent over the last 10 years; Harvard earned an annualized 8.9 percent over the same period.

This consistent underperformance has prompted some, including Faust, to consider if Harvard should change its investment model and adapt one closer to Yale’s. If his time at Columbia is any indication, Narvekar could lead a transition away from HMC’s “hybrid investment model.” Instead of employing both an in-house staff of about 200 and retaining external fund managers, Harvard may now begin—as Columbia does—to rely more heavily on external funds.

Narvekar has served as the CEO at the Columbia Investment Management Company since 2002, an almost 15 year long tenure that stands in stark contrast to the recent trend of executive turnover at HMC. Several analysts have pointed to the absence of a consistent leader at HMC as a one cause of the firm’s underperformance, and Faust said during the CEO search that Harvard needed to find a “strong leader.”

“Harvard Management Company plays a critically important role in supporting the students, faculty and staff who advance the teaching and research mission of the university,” Faust said in a press release. “We are pleased to welcome Narv to Harvard and are confident that his leadership skills and deep experience at the highest levels of investment management will position HMC for long-term success.”

Before taking the helm at Columbia, Narvekar managed the University of Pennsylvania’s private equity and hedge fund portfolios; he has also worked at J.P. Morgan & Co.

“It is an honor to join such a prestigious investment organization and help support the mission of Harvard University,” Narvekar said in the press release. “HMC has an unparalleled investment platform among endowments and I look forward to working with the HMC Board and team and using my investment experience to serve Harvard in the most effective way possible.”

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Harvard was considering Narvekar and Rockefeller University’s Amy C. Falls for the top post at its investment firm.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at andy.duehren@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at daphne.thompson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: September 30, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Stanford returned .8 percent on its endowment. In fact, it returned -.4 percent.

Tags