President Barack Obama on Friday appointed Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen to his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, though a University official said he will continue to lead Yale’s Investments Office.
The board, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, is composed of business, labor and financial leaders who Obama said offer an outside perspective on how the government should revive the economy. After signing an executive order establishing the team of advisers Friday morning, Obama introduced them at a White House ceremony later in the day.
“I created this Board to enlist voices that come from beyond the echo chamber of Washington, D.C., and to ensure that no stone is unturned as we work to put people back to work and to get our economy moving,” Obama said in a press conference Friday. “We will meet regularly so that I can hear different ideas and sharpen my own, and seek counsel that is candid and informed by the wider world.”
This foray into public policy is an unusual one for Swensen. He has always made clear that his place is at Yale managing the endowment, which he considers a form of public service in its own right. Swensen is devoted to his job of growing Yale’s money, and he avoids anything that distracts him from that effort, said Charles Ellis ’59, an investments consultant and a former member of the Yale Corporation’s Investment Committee.
“Patriotism is usually thought of in terms of a country, but [Swensen] is a patriot to Yale,” Ellis said Friday.
Swensen’s spirit of public service explains why he has stayed at Yale when he could surely make more money in the private sector, as well as why he would go to Washington to help put the economy back together, Ellis said.
“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have trying to conceptualize what we need to have strong financial markets,” Ellis said last month.
A University spokesman said Swensen’s new role in Washington would not impede on his duties in New Haven.
“Mr. Swensen can certainly make a strong contribution to economic recovery as a member of the advisory board while leading the Investments Office like no one else can,” Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said in an e-mail Friday. “He won’t miss a beat at Yale, that’s for sure.”
Swensen declined to comment on the appointment Saturday.
The board’s chief economist is Austan Goolsbee ’91. Other members include former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson, former Fed Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson, UBS Americas Chairman and CEO Robert Wolf, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger and Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein.
The board’s creation coincided with the government’s announcement that the United States lost 598,000 jobs in January and unemployment has climbed to 7.6 percent. At the same time, lawmakers in Congress sparred over the details of Obama’s proposed stimulus package, which would cost at least $800 billion.