Scene Last Night: ETFs, Frida Kahlo Talk of Garden Party

A garden on a table
A garden on a table at a ball. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Charles Johnson, who gave $250 million to Yale in 2013, praised the recent gifts of John Paulson ($400 million to Harvard) and Steve Schwarzman ($150 million to Yale).

“Philanthropy is good,” Johnson said cheerfully Thursday night at the New York Botanical Garden’s Conservatory Ball.

For the moment, the former chief executive officer and chairman of Franklin Resources is still the giver of Yale’s largest donation.

What Johnson doesn’t have is the promise of a building with his name on it, even though his gift is helping to build two new residential colleges that will enable Yale College to increase class size by 200 students. Naming the facilities is up to Yale’s governing board. University administrators have said living donors are ineligible.

Asked about having a residential college named after him, Johnson, who turned 82 in January, said, “No comment.” He was slightly more talkative about the ball: “It’s fun. You can wander around the garden. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.”

Charles Johnson, former chairman and CEO of Franklin Resources, and Bonnie Sacerdote, his sister. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Charles Johnson, former chairman and CEO of Franklin Resources, and Bonnie Sacerdote, his sister. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Before sitting down for dinner next to his sister Bonnie Sacerdote, Johnson fielded two more questions. On the subject of ETFs versus active investment managers, he said he had “no pearls of wisdom.”

And would he be dancing later? (to music by Soulsystem Orchestras, led by a former drummer of Skid Row.)

“I have a bad foot and a bad hip, so probably not. If I do go, it will be very briefly with my wife.”

Peek’s Move

Across the dance floor, Jeff Peek said he’s interested in ETFs at WisdomTree that hedge out currency risk. He also said he’s joining Bank of America as of July 6.

One table over was Chuck Royce, a pioneer of small-cap investing. “Passive is in a bubble,” Royce said. “We are returning as we speak to risk management being the predominant way” to invest.

Chuck and Deborah Royce. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Chuck and Deborah Royce. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

As Royce took his wife, Deborah, to the dance floor, Alexandra Lebenthal and Martin Shafiroff sat together for the meal featuring a shrimp ceviche, herb-roasted chicken and Spanish almond tart with tequila whipped cream: the event’s menu, decor and women’s fashion all nodded to Frida Kahlo, whose interest in plants is the subject of the Botanical Garden’s current exhibition.

Carolina Herrera de Baez, the fashion designer Carolina Herrera's daughter. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Carolina Herrera de Baez, the fashion designer Carolina Herrera's daughter. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Shafiroff, who picks managers for individual and institutional investors at Barclays Capital, said he’s steering money to private-equity firms. “I’m mostly interested in partnerships that build companies,” he said.

Martin Shafiroff and Alexandra Lebenthal. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Martin Shafiroff and Alexandra Lebenthal. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Seeing Bubbles

Lebenthal, who runs a wealth-advisory firm, came down on the side of managers. “You want someone you can talk to about managing your money,” said Lebenthal, adding she’s concerned about “the whole liquid alts world of ETFs. I think it’s going to be a bubble that’s going to blow up and everybody’s going to say, ‘Oh, we should have seen that.’ And my dress is by Carolina Herrera.”

Carolina Herrera in a black and yellow dress. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Carolina Herrera in a black and yellow dress. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Herrera herself was under the tent set up behind the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, sitting with actress Emmy Rossum. The designer’s brand was a ball sponsor, and provided bottles of men’s and women’s perfume as parting gifts.

The evening started in the Perennial Garden in front of the conservatory, where Ali Wambold enjoyed a cocktail. “Imagine a world where all investors only invested in ETFs,” the managing principal of Corporate Partners said. “What would determine stock prices? So you will always have active managers, and as the market shifts toward passive management, the bigger the opportunity for active management.”

Monica Gerard-Sharp Wambold and Ali Wambold, managing principal of Corporate Partners. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Monica Gerard-Sharp Wambold and Ali Wambold, managing principal of Corporate Partners. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Receiving Line

DeWayne Phillips, Caroline Wamsler and Gregory Long, president and CEO of the New York Botanical Garden. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
DeWayne Phillips, Caroline Wamsler and Gregory Long, president and CEO of the New York Botanical Garden. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Guests arrived to a receiving line manned by Gregory Long, the CEO and president of the garden, Maureen Chilton, its chairman, and the party chairwomen including Ann Johnson, Deborah Royce and Gillian Miniter.

Ann Johnson, a gala chairwoman, and Maureen Chilton, chairman of the New York Botanical Garden. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Ann Johnson, a gala chairwoman, and Maureen Chilton, chairman of the New York Botanical Garden. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Near a mariachi-style band, Chilton’s husband, Richard Chilton, chatted with a horticulturalist at the garden and Jennifer Foster, an equity specialist at his firm.

Jennifer Foster, assistant portfolio manager at Chilton Investments, and the firm's founder, Richard Chilton, with Russel Byer, Graham Foster and Todd Forrest, in charge of horticulture programs at the New York Botanical Garden. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Jennifer Foster, assistant portfolio manager at Chilton Investments, and the firm's founder, Richard Chilton, with Russel Byer, Graham Foster and Todd Forrest, in charge of horticulture programs at the New York Botanical Garden. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Chilton said leaving long-short equity hedge funds for ETFs is the wrong move. It’s like “selling your umbrellas because there’s been sunshine for six years,” Chilton said. “What, we’re never going to have rain again?”

Thankfully, no rain came down on the party, which raised $1.6 million.

The scene at a Frida Kahlo-inspired party. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
The scene at a Frida Kahlo-inspired party. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
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