Harvard University tapped a member of Yale’s Investment Committee on Thursday to take the helm of its world-leading $34.9 billion endowment.
Jane Mendillo ’80 SOM ’84, the chief investment officer at Wellesley College, will become the new president and chief executive officer of the Harvard Management Company effective July 1, the HMC’s board of directors announced.
To say Harvard picked an Eli in its appointment of Mendillo would be an understatement: The Trumbull College alumna took her first job in the Yale Investments Office upon graduation and subsequently spent two years at the School of Management, earning a degree there. Even her wedding took place at Yale, in Dwight Chapel.
That much was not lost on University officials.
“We’re delighted,” quipped University President Richard Levin, “to see the Harvard endowment in the capable hands of a Yale graduate.”
The news of Mendillo’s appointment was especially exciting to Levin, who, as a Yale economics professor in the 1980s, taught Mendillo at SOM in the school’s first-year course in economic analysis. In all his career, Levin said, “she was one of the top students I had.”
But it was Mendillo’s investment prowess at Wellesley — where the endowment jumped from $1 billion to $1.7 billion since her 2002 hiring — that caught the attention of Harvard, where she had previously served as HMC’s vice president of external investments.
“Jane Mendillo has an excellent record as one of the most able and accomplished investment managers in the endowment world, as well as an extensive knowledge of the Harvard endowment and a deep commitment to higher education,” said James Rothenberg, Harvard’s treasurer and the chairman of the HMC board of directors. “Her investment savvy, her intelligence and exacting standards, and her skill as an organizational leader suit her well to this very important role.”
Mendillo, 49, is one of 12 University officials and alumni to sit on Yale’s Investment Committee, which is charged with overseeing the management of Yale’s $22.5 billion endowment, the second-largest among American institutions of higher education. She will step down from that position when she assumes her new post at Harvard this summer, the university said, although her term would have expired this year anyway, Levin said.
And for the Harvard job, she will need all the energy she can muster. The position is among the most prominent — and most pressure-packed — in all of investing, as Wall Street tends to watch closely massive institutional investors like Harvard in addition to Yale, where Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 has become a demigod of sorts for his financial prowess over the last two decades.
The Harvard Management Company has also faced no shortage of controversy in recent years, especially with regard to the compensation of its top officials. In 2003, for instance, six of its top managers earned bonuses exceeding $100 million in total, drawing ire from a group of alumni.
Since then, HMC has struggled to keep its top brass; in 2005, the longtime HMC president Jack Meyer announced he would leave Harvard and establish a private investment firm, taking several of his top deputies with him, and some 30 employees in total, according to the Harvard Crimson. That left the HMC in need of rebuilding — which proved easier said than done.
Meyer’s replacement, Mohamed A. El-Erian, announced unexpectedly in September that he would return to the private investment firm where he worked for seven years, creating another void atop the massive fund.
While El-Erian attributed his departure to the desire to relocate back to California to be closer to his family, his decision may also have been motivated by the lucrative compensation that comes with private work. After Meyer’s departure, and Stanford’s loss of its investments czar to private practice, the Yale Corporation reworked the compensation structure for officials in the Investments Office, Levin said in an interview this fall.
But on Thursday, he said he did not suspect Harvard would have much to worry about.
“Jane has the right values,” Levin said. “She believes in higher education. She believes in using her investment talent for a higher calling.”
Indeed, Mendillo has long been a fixture in higher education investment circles for two decades. Before taking her current post at Wellesley, she served for nearly 15 years at Harvard, eventually overseeing a fund that grew to $7 billion, about a third of Harvard’s endowment at the time.
”I could not be more pleased to return to Harvard,” Mendillo said in a statement Thursday. “The Management Company’s investment rigor, intellectual integrity, and — most important — superior returns are traditions I look forward to continuing.”
Her return to Harvard will leave a void at Wellseley, however, and one that brings about another Yale connection: Charged with finding her successor is Kim Bottomly, Wellesley’s new president and a longtime immunobiology professor at Yale. Bottomly, who most recently served Yale as deputy provost for science, technology and faculty development, only assumed the Wellesley presidency last summer.
In a statement Thursday, Bottomly said Mendillo “has been a superb steward of Wellesley College’s endowment.”
“Just as important is the fact that the endowment’s policy portfolio has been diversified and carefully managed across a range of asset classes,” Bottomly added. “Thanks to Jane’s skillful leadership … Wellesley’s endowment portfolio is well positioned to continue to weather the volatility in the financial markets and the global economy.”
Her work did not escape notice. Even before Thursday’s announcement, the School of Management listed Mendillo on its Web site among its “alumni leaders.”
“Indeed,” said SOM Dean Joel Podolny, “she is the embodiment of SOM’s ideal graduate — someone whose skills and talents are focused on complex management challenges that, when addressed, will have a significant positive societal impact.”