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Even as Harvard endowment shrank last year, its managers got big paydays

Deferred compensation swelled the payouts to Harvard’s top endowment managers in 2021, despite market conditions that would later lead to losses.

A view of the gate to Harvard Yard on Sept. 16, 2021.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Even as the coffers they manage shrank last year, many of the people at the helm of Harvard University’s $50 billion endowment — the largest in the nation — saw their paychecks grow in 2021, thanks in part to the endowment’s success in previous years.

On Friday, Harvard released its annual Form 990 — an Internal Revenue Service document filed by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations — for fiscal year 2022, which concluded on June 30, 2022. The forms disclose the incomes of top earners at an institution (compensation data reflects earnings in 2021), as well as other financial insights.

Nirmal P. Narvekar, the president and CEO of Harvard Management Company, the group that oversees the college’s endowment, received a big bump in his reported pay, which — between wages and other compensation, including deferred bonuses that will be paid out in future years — climbed to nearly $10.5 million, compared with just over $1 million in 2020. In a statement, Harvard said the jump was due in part to “deferred payments earned in previous years” that were paid in 2021; his awarded compensation was $6.65 million. Similarly, those deferrals lowered Narvekar’s reported compensation in 2020, Harvard said; his awarded compensation that year was $6.24 million.

Many of Narvekar’s top lieutenants also saw higher earnings: Chief Investment Officer Richard W. Slocum took home over $8.3 million in 2021 (including future bonuses), after earning about $865,000 in 2020. Managing director Elise McDonald netted over $7.6 million, up from about $4.7 million in 2020.


Harvard president Lawrence Bacow took home just over $1.3 million in total compensation in 2021, a figure that includes both his salary and other benefits such as housing, the employer-provided portion of his insurance, and employer contributions to his retirement. That’s up from about $1.1 million in 2020 — when Bacow and other top administrators vowed to take a 25 percent pay cut as the COVID pandemic battered higher education — and $1.2 million in 2019.


The only person on the university’s payroll who earned more than Bacow was, again, computer science professor David Malan, who earned nearly $1.6 million in 2021, up from $1.4 million in 2020.

This data comes after Harvard revealed in October that its endowment lost money in fiscal year 2022 amid the broader slump in financial markets, dropping from $53.2 billion the year prior to $50.9 billion. The endowment’s negative return of 1.8 percent, however, outpaced other major university endowments including MIT and Columbia (though Yale’s eked out a small gain). It also fared better than the stock market; the S&P 500 dropped 11 percent, including dividends, from June 2021 through June 2022.

Distributions from Harvard’s endowment accounted for more than a third of its revenue and provides the Cambridge school’s single largest source of income.

“The endowment is a critical resource for maintaining and expanding Harvard’s mission of teaching and research,” said Paul Finnegan, chairman of HMC’s board of directors, in a press release. “Even during this period of economic uncertainty, [Narvekar] and the team at HMC have positioned the endowment for long-term success and ensured that Harvard’s students, faculty, and operations will benefit from these resources in perpetuity.”

Even as the endowment shrank, the college’s financials continued a post-pandemic upswing. In October, Harvard reported that overall revenues had increased 11 percent to $5.8 billion as most students returned to campus, and the university closed out the year with an operating surplus of $406 million (jumping from $283 million in fiscal year 2021).


Operating expenses, however, shot up by $464 million, or 9 percent, from 2021, as wages increased and inflation hiked up the cost of other goods and services.

An earlier version of this story was updated to reflect additional details of the timing of compensation.

Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @danagerber6.