How Yale runs its endowment fund?

There are two things to  endowment fund run by US universities. One is their huge size which is more than size of GDP of several countries. Two, most of the business schools in these univs would be teaching the utility of passive or indexing fund management. So ideally all these funds should be just invested in some index fund as their own Profs would say. But the univ does the opposite by appointing an active fund manager to do the job!

Here is a profile of David Swensen, fund manager of Yale endowment fund.

Mr. Swensen’s route to the endowment world was circuitous, though. “My father and my grandfather were both chemistry professors,” he said. After earning a doctorate in economics from Yale in 1980, he considered teaching that subject. But while he was researching bond prices at Salomon Brothers for his Ph.D. dissertation, “they offered me a job,” he said.

Salomon was, of course, a Wall Street bond titan at the time and would eventually help define the go-go 1980s “Barbarians at the Gate” era of leveraged buyouts. All of that was still a few years in the future, though, and anyway, Mr. Swensen said, “I missed Yale so much that I went back to teach one class every semester.”

In 1985, the Yale provost, William C. Brainard, plucked him from Wall Street and asked him to take over the school’s $1 billion endowment.

His acceptance meant an 80 percent pay cut. But Mr. Swensen says he never regretted returning to work for an academic mission. “I am in the fortunate position of making very good money,” he said, for something he loves doing. He made $5.1 million in 2014, the latest numbers available.

From the beginning, he brought in analysts and interns to work on the portfolio. Part of that process soon included the weekly meeting to debate investment ideas. “Seeing that there was a debate, even at the most senior level, taught everyone to have their own view,” Mr. Golden said.

There is something about writing these profiles of a fund manager. They read so pristine and make the person appear as some god or something. They are so similar that they all appear too good to be true. All this lasts till the fund does well. As it makes losses all these adjectives turn into something else…

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