HMC's New Manager: Breaking With Tradition

Jack Meyer

From the outside, it does not look like much changed at the Harvard Management Company this summer.

The same receptionist still greets visitors as they come through the heavy glass doors outside the elevator. The same heavy portrait of some decades-old member of the Cabot family still hangs in the lobby.

Even the president's office, looking out of the Federal Reserve Building into the heart of Boston, doesn't appear to have changed very much.

The room has spartan furnishings: a round table, a few chairs, a mostly-cleared desk--all still arranged just as they were last spring. There are still eclectic paintings decorating the bland earthy interior walls of the spacious office.

But all this sameness belies the massive changes which have swept through the Harvard Management Company (HMC) over the past year. After nearly two decades at the top, Walter M. Cabot '51 is no longer the chief executive officer of the company he founded for the University.


Now, the $5.5 billion Harvard endowment is in the hands of Jack Meyer, a young money manager who has spent the last seven years as chief investment officer of the Rockefeller Foundation.

And, while praising his predecessor's accomplishments, Meyer plans to change things at HMC now that he is in charge.

"I'm not certain that my vision would be much different than Walter's," says Meyer, who inherits a 120-person money-management team. "I hope to build on what Walter has built and take it to the next step. With certainty, I have a few things in mind that haven't been done in the past."

Meyer, 45, will be only the second president of HMC. When Cabot suffered a severe heart attack in the summer of 1989, the company which manages Harvard's endowment faced the first leadership crisis in its history.

Although he returned to the company after several months of recovery, Cabot said then he realized he could not handle the strain of managing the vital University endowment. And, at the time, other observers were hinting that the company needed new blood in the top position.

"I can't compare myself to the man," says Meyer, who graduated from Denison in 1967 and went straight to Harvard Business School. "I know Walter intimately, we have spent a great deal of time together. One thing for sure I bring that Walter can't anymore is a commitment of time and effort.

"That doesn't take away from anything he's done in the past. The reason he is stepping aside is that he had a serious [heart attack]," Meyer adds.

`The Ty Cobbs of Funds Management'

Although not many people at the University have tried to compare the new HMC president with his predecessor, everyone seems anxious to sing Meyer's praises.

"Jack is an extremely intelligent, thoughtful person," says Robert H. Scott, Harvard's vice president for finance, who has known Meyer for years. "He'll be an ideal colleague for me as we work together to determine the needs [of Harvard]."