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Cornell Names Michael Abbott Chief Investment Officer

Cornell University, the Ithaca, New York, Ivy League school founded in 1865, named Michael Abbott as chief investment officer, replacing James Walsh, who stepped down at the end of June.

Abbott, 46, started in his new role today, overseeing the school’s $4.4 billion fund, Cornell said in a statement. Abbott, a London native, previously managed $2 billion in hedge funds as chief executive officer and head of the investment committee at Robeco-Sage, the fund-of-funds firm owned by Rotterdam-based Robeco Group.

Cornell’s investments rose 13 percent in the past year, beating the returns of 11 percent and 8.9 percent at Harvard and Yale, the two richest U.S. schools. Cornell tied with the University of Pennsylvania’s $5.7 billion fund in Philadelphia as the third-best performing institution in the Ivy League. Columbia University’s $6.5 billion fund in New York led with a 17 percent gain, followed by Princeton University’s $14.4 billion endowment in New Jersey, which increased 15 percent.

Walsh, Cornell’s former chief investment officer, stepped down at the end of the academic year and started a $150 million hedge fund, Cayuga Capital Partners in London. Senior investment officers A.J. Edwards, David McNiff and John Regan ran the endowment on an interim basis.

Cornell generated an average annual return of 4.6 percent in the five years through June, compared with the 4.7 percent gain at Harvard and the 3.1 percent median increase for public and corporate pensions, endowments and foundations tracked by Wilshire Associates Inc., a consulting firm in Santa Monica, California.

Ivy League Losses

The Ivy League consists of eight private schools in the northeastern U.S. Harvard, the richest U.S. school, has a $27.6 billion endowment and is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, is the second richest, with a $16.7 billion fund. Brown University’s $2.18 billion fund in Providence, Rhode Island, gained 10 percent in the past year, as did the $3 billion endowment at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

None of the Ivy League schools has recouped the record losses incurred in the year ended June 30, 2009, after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008 crippled financial markets. As investments tumbled, universities cut jobs, froze salaries and postponed building projects. Cornell lost 26 percent that year, similar to declines at Harvard and Yale.

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