Think what you will of hedge fund managers and private equity investors — risk-taking creators of wealth that fuels our economy, or modern robber barons — but they’ve been very good to Harvard University. The latest example of philanthropy on Wall Street steroids: a $100 million gift by David Goel, who runs Matrix Capital Management in Waltham, and his wife, Stacey Goel. According to the Globe’s Don Aucoin and Tim Logan, Harvard will use the money to “reshape and expand its arts campus, a sweeping effort that will include a performance and research center in Allston to serve as the home of the American Repertory Theater, one of the most prominent regional theaters in the country.”
Who is David Goel? Originally from Canada, he cofounded Matrix Capital two decades ago and has grown it to about $3 billion in assets, which is healthy but not huge by hedge fund standards. He is a protege of famed hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, whose Tiger Management served as a training ground from which dozens of “Tiger Cubs” went on to start their own firms. And, yes, Goel went to Harvard, after graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, but he wasn’t born on third base.
Goel’s donation, while impressive, isn’t the largest Harvard has received from a Wall Street titan. That honor belongs to John Paulson, who donated $400 million in 2015 to support the engineering school, which was renamed for him. Paulson made a killing betting against the US housing market before the financial crisis.
In 2014, Chicago hedge fund manager Ken Griffin gave his alma mater $150 million, with the bulk of the money targeted for undergraduate financial aid. Griffin, who started Citadel LLC, was recently in the news when he spent $238 million for an apartment on Central Park South in Manhattan, the highest price ever paid for a home in this country.
The list goes on: Glenn Hutchins (chairman of North Island and a cofounder of Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm that helped Michael Dell take his company private, and then public again); Jonathan Lavine (co-managing partner at Bain Capital, the buyout firm started by Mitt Romney); Glenn Dubin (who sold his Highbridge Capital hedge fund to JPMorgan); Steve Schwarzman (CEO of private equity giant Blackstone Group, who also gave $350 million to open the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT); and Eric Mindich (founder of hedge fund Eton Capital Management).
Harvard — along with its business school — has sent an untold number of graduates on to very profitable careers in finance. And those alumni are a big reason its endowment, at $39.2 billion, is the largest in the higher education world.
All these men — all the uber-wealthy hedge fund and private equity managers are men — don’t donate exclusively to Harvard. They give across a range of charitable and nonprofit causes.
And Harvard is a worthy recipient. It spends millions on financial aid for students who otherwise could not afford to attend. It trains scientists, doctors, and engineers who drive advances in medicine and technology. As with the Goels’ $100 million, it supports the arts.
Still, still. . . there is a piece of me that wishes more of the wealth created by our most successful financiers (and industrialists) went to organizations that really, really need it. It’s not a question of one or another. It’s a question of shifting the balance.