Harvard Endowment’s New Boss Delays Gala to Review Fund Strategy

  • Update on endowment expected in first quarter under new CEO
  • Narvekar calls strategic review his ‘highest priority’

Harvard Management Co., which oversees a $35.7 billion endowment that’s been plagued by underperformance, is postponing next month’s Winter Gala as its new chief executive officer leads a review of the fund’s strategy and structure.

“This planning work is our highest priority for the coming weeks and months, and will be our primary focus,” Nirmal “Narv” Narvekar, who this month joined Harvard’s endowment as its fourth chief executive officer since 2005, and Chief Operating Officer Bob Ettl wrote in an e-mail to staff. Narvekar and Ettl said they expect to provide “an update on our plans” in the first quarter of 2017.

The party, scheduled for Jan. 6, will be held later in the year, according to the memo sent to employees on Dec. 20. The gathering is an annual event, and last year’s was a black-tie affair with an orchestra in a hall on Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Bigger Staff

Narvekar, 54, is charged with improving performance and reviewing strategy at the organization running the largest U.S. university endowment, which has around 230 employees compared with the 20 he oversaw at Columbia University. Harvard employs more people than other endowments because it has traders on staff investing directly in stock and bond markets as well as teams making direct investments in other assets like natural resources.

“The executive team is going through a process of reviewing our strategy and plans to ensure we are headed in the right direction and best equipped organizationally to deliver on our mission for Harvard,” according to the memo.

Harvard Management said late Wednesday in an e-mailed statement that it’s evaluating “how we can best allocate capital and leverage our comparative advantages to maximize performance over the long-term.”

Trading Team

Narvekar was the top-performing endowment manager from Columbia, a $9 billion portfolio with annualized returns of 10 percent in the past decade. Since he started at Harvard on Dec. 5, he hasn’t indicated what his strategy will be or when it might be implemented.

Harvard eliminated at least a dozen positions earlier this year and dismantled most of an internal public-equity trading team amid reports of steep losses.

Harvard lost 2 percent on its investments in the year ended June 30 as most schools struggled with small losses. It’s generated an annual average return of 5.9 percent during the last five years, among the worst in the Ivy League and trailing peers such as Yale, which had a 10.3 percent gain.

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