The $36 billion Harvard University endowment is getting a big shakeup, and the leader at the controls is N.P. Narvekar. “Narv,” as he is called, joined the world’s largest college fund from the smaller but recently more successful Columbia University endowment, where he spent the past 14 years. Harvard’s board had been eyeing him for some time, and he finally came aboard in December.
He faces no small task. Harvard has lagged its top peers in investment returns for a full decade, despite a roomful of brains and big paychecks, and Narvekar, 55, is its fifth CEO in a dozen years. He is laying off roughly half of Harvard Management Co.’s 230 employees, using more external firms to manage money, and dismantling internal hedge fund teams.
Some of the executives leaving will run slices of the endowment, but their fees will no longer be publicly reported as they were when they were Harvard employees. The question is whether Narvekar can bring discipline and access to top funds and deliver the kind of returns he did at Columbia: 8.1 percent annualized over a decade versus Harvard’s 5.7 percent. That’s billions of dollars in lost investment opportunity to turn around — under the scrutiny of a tough crowd.