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Jack R. Meyer, president and CEO of the Harvard Management Company (HMC), announced on January 11 that he would leave his post as overseer of the largest university endowment in the world.
Under Meyer’s 15-year watch, the endowment has nearly quintupled from $4.7 billion to $22.6 billion.
Apart from the numbers, though, Meyer looks back on his time spent with HMC with fondness.
“Its been absolutely great,” he says. “This is a wonderful group of people and the results have been far better than I have ever dreamed.”
Although slated to depart at the end of the fiscal year, Meyer has volunteered to remain longer if there is no successor in place by his announced departure date, though Meyer noted that this action is subject to approval by the University.
Meyer’s departure is the most notable in what has become a trend at HMC. Over the past eight years, Harvard has experienced an exodus of its top managers as they spin off to create their own private firms. Holding to the pattern, Meyer is taking with him four high-performing endowment managers—Edward DeNoble, David Mittelman, Michael Pradko, and Maurice Samuels—to start a private investment firm.
The group plans to leave at the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
Meyer’s decision was partially motivated by public scrutiny over the compensation that he and other top Harvard managers have raked in—sums that range from $5.8 million to $25.4 million.
“Nobody at HMC likes the idea that the world knows what our compensation is,” Meyer says. “It affects the way your friends see you, the way your children are treated at school.”
However, Meyer also noted that the excitement and challenge of starting his own fund ranked highly as a reason for his departure.
Meyer arrived at HMC in 1990, when it was in a state of turmoil and officials within Harvard were heavily scrutinizing it.
Walter M. Cabot ’55, Meyer’s predecessor at HMC and its founder, had taken on increasing criticism in the late 1980s for declining investment returns and controversial positions in RJR Nabisco and Lomas Financial Co., among others.
Having previously worked with institutional endowments at the Rockefeller Foundation and the City of New York deputy controller’s office, Meyer seemed a natural choice.
Many people believed that HMC might switch to external management when Meyer arrived because of his track record of outsourcing investment responsibilities to other firms, Meyer said.
But by 1997, Harvard still managed approximately 80 percent of the endowment internally.
As the endowment grew from $10.7 billion then to the $22.6 billion behemoth it currently is, HMC’s usage of external management increased to 50 percent.
HMC’s success in what Meyer likes to call “adding value” has been remarkable.
Even through difficult times in the market, Harvard’s performance has consistently exceeded the performance of the average fund and even Harvard’s policy portfolio, a hypothetical portfolio that Meyer has formulated as a benchmark to measure how well the actual Harvard portfolio has performed.
Jeffrey B. Larson, the former manager of foreign equities at HMC, hails Meyer as a capable manager.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Jack is one of the most straightforward and honest guys I’ve ever met,” Larson says.
—Staff writer Alexander H. Greeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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