David Swensen, the long-serving head of Yale University’s endowment who helped rewrite how colleges invest their money, has been diagnosed with cancer.
Swensen, 58, is undergoing treatment and taking temporary leave, Tom Conroy, a spokesman for New Haven, Connecticut-based Yale, said today in an e-mail. Conroy declined to disclose the type of cancer.
The illness was first disclosed on Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, earlier this week when Swensen was absent from an economics seminar he teaches. The students were told by Dean Takahashi, a senior director in the investments office, that Swensen had cancer and would be out for about a month, the Yale Daily News said today, citing conversations with students. Takahashi didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Swensen joined Yale as chief investment officer in 1985 from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and pioneered an investing style that has helped endowments beat markets by aggressively investing in alternative assets such as private equity and real estate. Under his stewardship, the university has generated an annual rate of return of 14.2 percent during the past 20 years, which is the top among the eight northeastern U.S. schools that make up the Ivy League.
Yale’s endowment was valued at $19.4 billion as of June 30, 2011, making the university the second wealthiest, after Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“His value to the university over more than 25 years has been enormous and we hope he returns to the job,” said John Griswold, executive director of the Commonfund Institute, an education and research group that is an arm of the Commonfund in Wilton, Connecticut. The company manages about $25 billion for nonprofit institutions.