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In many ways, Harvard Management Company, the firm that oversees the University's multi-billion dollar endowment, is a black box. On its number of employees, HMC is characteristically silent.
N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, who took over as HMC’s CEO in Dec. 2016, wrote in a Jan. 2017 letter to Harvard affiliates that he would halve HMC’s 230-person staff by the end of calendar year 2017.
Since the letter, Narvekar has not commented publicly on the size of the company’s staff. The CEO released a message on the status of Harvard’s endowment in last week’s University Financial Report — and the report did not provide a new employee figure. HMC spokesperson Patrick S. McKiernan declined to comment last week on the number of people HMC employees.
The planned reduction in staff was part of Narvekar’s shift from HMC’s previously large in-house operation toward external management. As part of this transition, HMC spun off several internal investment teams. In 2017, Bloomberg reported that Harvard would invest at least $300 million in a hedge fund formed by former HMC managers, and in February of this year, HMC’s 22-person real estate team joined private equity firm Bain Capital.
In last week’s financial report, Narvekar wrote that the natural resources team is the only in-house investment team that remains. Harvard’s investments are now primarily overseen by a “Generalist Team,” a new group of employees who “take ownership of the entire portfolio, regardless of asset class,” according to job posting on HMC’s website. The team is part of the endowment’s shift to a ‘generalist’ model in which asset managers focus on the entire portfolio, not just a specific asset class.
“The HMC Generalist Team was officially formed just prior to the start of fiscal year 2018 and has, therefore, been functioning for over a year. While some team members have been trained as generalists, others bring deep specialist experience,” Narvekar wrote in the financial report.
The company’s website only lists HMC's top three administrators — Narvekar, Chief Investment Officer Rick Slocum, and Chief Operating Officer Bob Ettl — under the heading “Leadership.” Harvard’s peers, though, take a markedly different approach; all of the other Ivy League endowment offices list their staff members on their websites.
LinkedIn estimates the size of HMC as between 201 and 500 employees, a range determined by the administrator of HMC’s LinkedIn page. It is unclear when the page was last updated.
With little information about the people involved in stewarding Harvard’s $39.2 billion endowment, experts are left to speculate about the extent of Narvekar’s personnel changes.
Charles A. Skorina, the head of a finance executive search firm, put the number of employees at “around 120.”
“The last time I heard it was around 120. That was at least nine months ago,” Skorina said.
In his first letter to Harvard affiliates, Narvekar wrote that HMC’s shift towards external managers is partly due to competition for talent.
“In recent years… the tremendous flow of capital to external managers has created a great deal of competition for both talent and ideas, therefore making it more difficult to attract and retain the necessary investment expertise,” Narvekar wrote.
The shift also came after criticism Harvard faced for the large compensation packages of its internal investment managers, which sometimes reached tens of millions of dollars.
After Narvekar’s overhaul, some former HMC employees continue to manage Harvard’s money — now, from outside of the University.
According to David L. Yermack '85, chair of the Finance Department at New York University Stern and a former managing editor of The Crimson, there could be ambiguity over who counts as HMC staff, which may be one reason why Narvekar has remained mum about the number of people he employs. Yermack also said there is no law that requires companies to disclose this number.
“HMC probably doesn't disclose the information because there is no such requirement. In addition, there are probably numerous subcontractors and consultants who are in a grey area somewhere between in-house and external,” he wrote.
Skorina speculated that HMC’s opacity may stem from another cause: a concern about the press attention the Harvard name inevitably garners.
“In the case of Harvard, every time you report a staff change there is press, there is media speculation,” he said. “The idle speculation could do more damage than just not saying anything.”
—Staff writer Eli W. Burnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
—Staff writer Andrew J. Zucker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJZucker.
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