Harvard Endowment to Lay Off 57 Staffers as Overhaul Begins

  • University will slash 230-member team in half by year-end
  • New CEO seeks better performance by simplifying operations

Harvard Endowment to Lay Off Staffers as Overhaul Begins

Harvard University’s endowment plans to lay off 57 people beginning in April as it seeks to cut its 230-person staff in half this year.

Harvard Management Co. said the first separations will begin April 18, according to its filing this month with the Massachusetts Department of Labor. Emily Guadagnoli, a spokeswoman for Harvard Management, declined to comment. Other staffers are poised to join funds that will be spun off through this year as internal investing operations are curtailed.

The world’s largest university endowment is overhauling operations as it seeks to turn around performance. Narv Narvekar, the chief executive officer hired last year, announced a plan last month to shutter what remains of the endowment’s internal hedge funds and cut staff in half. Traders have been told to finish liquidating their portfolios by the end of March, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, as reported earlier Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Trailing Peers

Harvard, with a $35.7 billion endowment, has trailed peers in investment performance in the last decade. The management company, which has grappled with leadership turnover, produced an annual average return of 5.7 percent in the 10 years through June 30, among the worst in the Ivy League.

The university hired Narvekar from Columbia University’s investment management company, where he oversaw a team of about 20 people with $9 billion in assets. Columbia had an annual average return of 8.1 percent over the last decade, among the best in higher education. The Harvard layoffs have so far targeted back office and middle management staffers, according to the person.

Harvard guaranteed Narvekar compensation of at least $6 million annually for the next three years, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing compensation. The Journal earlier reported the pay. Narvekar said in a letter to Harvard on Jan. 25 that the endowment will move to tie staff pay to the overall performance of the fund, fostering what he called a “generalist” approach.

New Funds

Bloomberg reported on Feb. 14 that at least two of Harvard Management’s fixed-income portfolio managers are seeking to spin out and start a fund as is an equities portfolio manager. The management company said last month it would consider investing in funds that are spun out from the endowment.

Harvard Management is also shuffling staff, creating a team to oversee a so-called public markets beta portfolio that invests in exchange-traded funds and other similar strategies that deliver index-like returns at low cost, the person said. The team will be overseen by Jake Xia, the chief risk officer hired from Morgan Stanley in 2013.

While Xia will remain head of risk, Vir Dholabhai, one of three Columbia University endowment veterans hired by Narvekar last month, will help develop new investment and risk frameworks, the person said.

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