David Swensen, the legendary chief of Yale University’s endowment fund, passed away last week at age 67. This according to an announcement in Chief Investment Officer.
“In his 36 years at the fund’s helm, he pioneered the push into alternatives, with less reliance on traditional stocks and bonds,” the article reports, adding, “Thanks to this strategy, Swensen, a Yale-trained economist, increased the university’s endowment to $31.2 billion as of 2020, from $1 billion when he arrived in 1985 after a stint on Wall Street.” The article notes that Swensen famously took an 80% pay cut to run the school’s endowment.
The “Yale Model” was used by many other endowments, the article reports, adding that it impacted the trend of pension funds to move money into private equity, hedge funds, timberland, and other alternative investments. Most recently, alternatives accounted for about 60% of Yale’s portfolio.
Swensen had a contrarian streak, the article notes, “which sometimes landed him in trouble,” citing his resolve to keep fossil fuel investments in the endowment portfolio; “Swensen argued that it’s better to fight climate change by having a say in energy company policy as a shareholder than by simply divesting, which is in vogue throughout academia.” He ranked No. 1 on Chief Investment Officer’s list of top endowment CIOs and this spring was named to CIO’s Power 100 list of top allocators.
In a statement announcing Swensen’s passing, Yale president Peter Salovey wrote: “David served our university with distinction. He was an exceptional colleague, a dear friend, and a beloved mentor to many in our community.”