Skip to content
relates to How David Swensen Made Yale Fabulously Rich
Photographer: Jamie Chung for Bloomberg Businessweek

How David Swensen Made Yale Fabulously Rich

He walked away from the stock market, built a network of elite private funds, and created a fortune with no end in sight.

Updated on

On a Tuesday in early April, David Swensen sat onstage in a gradually filling lecture hall. Sunlight slanted through a Tiffany stained-glass window of angels personifying various pursuits of the mind. Outside, tour groups moved along the paths of Yale’s Old Campus, spilling onto topsoil ventilated with small holes to speed the growth of the grass upon which undergrads would picturesquely recline in warmer weather.

Swensen is a legend at Yale, and its highest-paid employee. But he’s neither the university president nor the football coach. He’s the money manager who for 34 years has been in charge of the endowment—the multibillion-dollar pool of money, seeded and fed by donations, that comprises Yale’s fortune. It’s largely thanks to Swensen that the university can woo star scholars, that its admissions can be need-blind, its libraries and cafeterias staffed, its sports teams fielded, its grad students stipended, its antique windows tended, and its lawns aerated.