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Harvard has started to narrow its list of candidates to replace Stephen Blyth as CEO of Harvard Management Company and has at least two higher education investment veterans among potential candidates for the position, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
Amy C. Falls, the chief investment officer at Rockefeller University who currently sits on HMC’s Board of Directors, and N.P. Narvekar, Columbia University’s investment head, are being considered to manage Harvard’s $37.6 billion endowment, according to the WSJ. Representatives for Narvekar declined to comment for this story, and Falls could not be reached for comment.
Blyth’s tenure ended this summer when he took a then-temporary medical leave of absence and eventually resigned from his post. When he ascended to the head of HMC in September 2014, Blyth had launched an effort to regain Harvard’s competitive edge in endowment investing and match returns of peer institutions like Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, who have recently outperformed Harvard.
Now, the University finds itself again searching for a new executive and winning investment strategy during a year that experts are saying could spell trouble for Harvard’s and other university endowments. In a statement, Harvard spokesperson David J. Cameron said “there is an active search underway for a new head of the Harvard Management Company, and there are a number of excellent prospective candidates.” He did not confirm that specific candidates were being considered.
According to the WSJ, Harvard was considering seven people for the position earlier this month, and winnowed the list down this week. Seth Alexander and Neal F. Triplett—who direct MIT’s and Duke’s endowment investments, respectively—both passed on the job, the WSJ reported.
While Robert A. Ettl, an HMC executive since 2008, has served as the Management Company’s interim CEO since May, experts say turnover and discontinuity among executives could muddle the firm’s investment strategies. HMC had two CEOs in the first 31 years of its history; the position has changed hands three times in the past 11 years alone.
“They’re coming into a portfolio that’s had five different chefs in the kitchen, six, seven, all trying to cook the same dish,” said Charles A. Skorina, who manages a firm that recruits financial executives. “So they’ve got a mess on their hands.”
Blyth unveiled his vision for HMC’s future in a letter to shareholders released alongside the FY 2015 results, including a turn away from traditional siloed allocation and plans to tie compensation to the fund’s overall performance. But when the new CEO is named, some experts said, those plans could change dramatically.
“Ultimately the new people start with a clean state, and any new manager typically has a grace period to unwind some of the errors of their predecessor,” said David L. Yermack ’85, a professor of finance at New York University. “I think they’ve had a lot of bad luck, frankly. They never intended to be changing managers as quickly as they are. Whoever comes in next, I think there’d be a mutual expectation that they’d be there for at least 10, 15 years.”
In the recent past, searches for new HMC CEOs have lasted months: When Mohamed A. El-Erian resigned after only one year leading the company in 2007, Harvard spent more than six months looking for a new CEO in Jane L. Mendillo. Harvard spent about three months searching for Mendillo’s replacement after she resigned in 2014; according to the WSJ, Narvekar was considered for the position but ultimately withdrew his candidacy.
In the last few years, Harvard’s endowment has struggled to keep pace with returns at peer schools like Yale, Princeton, and MIT. During fiscal year 2015, Yale, Princeton, and MIT returned 11.5 percent, 12.7 percent, and 13.2 percent, respectively, on their endowments; Harvard’s investment pool grew 5.8 percent. University President Drew G. Faust said last year that the endowment’s performance was concerning.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.
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