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Talking Investing with David Swenson of the Yale University Endowment

Last update on: Mar 14 2020

The longtime head of the Yale University Endowment is famous in money management circles but not so much elsewhere. In this article, The New York Times talks to him about his career, strategies for managing money, and more.

In a series of extended interviews, he and more than a half-dozen of his investment-office veterans discussed his management style — where they agree and disagree. Along the way Mr. Swensen gave his views on things as diverse as the pharmaceutical company Valeant — which “didn’t even have the fig leaf of R.&D. expenditures,” he said, to justify increasing its drug prices dramatically — to his toughest year, fiscal 2009, when his fund plummeted 24.6 percent during the economic meltdown.

In the aftermath, he got hurt in a particularly bad real estate investment. “This is one of my biggest mistakes in the past 30 years,” Mr. Swensen said.

Over the decades, though, the Yale endowment has built one of the strongest records among the nation’s largest endowments. Most recently, in the fiscal year ended June 30 — a dismal one for most schools, with the average endowment declining 2.7 percent, according to Cambridge Associates, which tracks performance — Yale’s rose 3.4 percent.

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