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Still Seeking a CEO, HMC Adds Butterfield As Natural Resources Exec

By Andrew M. Duehren and Daphne C. Thompson, Crimson Staff Writers

Farmland investor Colin Butterfield will serve as the next head of natural resources for Harvard Management Company, adding a new face to an executive roster thrown into flux after CEO Stephen Blyth’s resignation earlier this summer.

Previously the CEO of Brazilian farmland investment firm Radar S.A., Butterfield will join Harvard’s investment arm—which directs the University’s $37.6 billion endowment—this fall, the University announced Thursday. He will fill the position one year after Alvaro Aguirre-Simunovic’s resignation in October 2015.

While Satu Parikh, then-head of commodities, was initially tapped to lead the portfolio in the interim, he left shortly after Blyth selected him. René J. Canezin, HMC’s head of public markets, assumed the position instead.

Natural resources, including timber holdings in Brazil, constituted 9 percent of Harvard’s endowment—which is the largest endowment of any institution in higher education—in fiscal year 2015. In FY 2015, the University returned just 3.5 percent on its natural resources portfolio, a figure then-CEO Stephen Blyth called “subdued” in his letter to investors.

These holdings—which range from timber to vineyards—can be, at times, controversial: critics have argued that the University’s use of some land holdings has damaged local ecologies.

Harvard’s overall endowment performance has lagged behind that of many of its peer institutions in the last few years, prompting University President Drew G. Faust to say last fall she was concerned about returns on the endowment.

Butterfield will join an HMC in the midst of transition. Earlier this summer, Blyth, its CEO, resigned after just two years at the helm, leaving the firm in search of its fourth top executive in a decade—a pattern of turnover that some experts warn could further complicate efforts to improve HMC’s performance.

Long a leading performer among large higher education investors, HMC suffered a crippling blow when the housing market crashed and the University’s endowment took a 27.3 percent hit in FY 2009. During his tenure, Blyth launched a series of new programs to try to match peer performance; still, the endowment returned a relatively lackluster 5.8 percent in FY 2015.

Complications within Harvard’s investment arm also arrive as the University seeks to raise billions of dollars as part of its historic capital campaign, which surpassed its $6.5 billion goal earlier this year. Donations to the University are often invested as part of the endowment, funding initiatives ranging from financial aid to scientific research at Harvard.

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

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