Harvard's endowment names a new private equity investment chief, amid some signs that it has soured on the asset class.
FORTUNE — Harvard Management Co. has finally named a new head of private equity, seven months after the departure of Peter Dolan. It’s Lane MacDonald, a onetime PE exec (Alta Communications) who joined HMC’s private equity group in August 2008. He later moved on to serve as a managing director in public markets, and is perhaps best known in Crimson-land as the captain of Harvard’s 1989 NCAA championship ice hockey team.
When Dolan originally left, I emailed MacDonald to suggest that he seemed well-positioned to get the job. Deep private equity experience, plus a new-found public market background that would give him broader perspective. His reply was that it was an “interesting theory,” but that he had no further comment.
A few related notes:
1. John Shue, who has been serving as interim private equity director, is expected to remain with HMC. He originally had been considered the front-runner for the job. And, yes, he is Andrew and Elizabeth’s brother.
2. Expect that HMC will launch a search to replace MacDonald on the public markets side, although his successor could come from within.
3. HMC chief executive Jane Mendillo recently took some shots at the group’s recent private equity returns, which came in at 11% for the fiscal year ending June 30 (compared to a 10.6% benchmark). In a public letter, she wrote:
Interesting comments, particularly given that Mendillo was part of HMC’s private equity group for a small part of that time (before leaving for Wellesley, and then back to HMC in a much higher-profile role). They seem to reflect a certain antipathy toward the asset class, particularly when compared to her comments about natural resources investments, which actually lagged the relevant benchmark (5.1% vs. 7.6%):
I assume Mendillo would tell me to look at the long-term numbers, but weren’t the ten-year private equity returns hampered by a heavily-discounted secondaries sale in the midst of the financial crisis (something I assume Mendillo supported, even though the original plan was conceived before the bottom fell out and arguably should have been postponed)? Moreover, Fortune has learned that a large number of investments made by other parts of HMC (including by some folks that later left and/or spun out) were “reclassified” as private equity several years back, thus negatively affecting overall returns.
In other words: Does HMC’s private equity strategy really need to be “honed,” or must it simply be adhered to?
Either way, it will be interesting to watch what MacDonald does with what is one of the most influential jobs in private equity.
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