Michigan State University hired Philip Zecher, a former hedge fund manager with a doctorate in nuclear physics, as its first chief investment officer to oversee the school’s $2.3 billion endowment.
The school joins other institutions such as the University of Nebraska in creating investment chief positions as their endowments have grown rather than outsource the responsibility to consultants. The value of Michigan State’s investments, which includes the endowment and some other funds, has climbed 800 percent since 2000, the university said.
“We had been managing this in a very traditional sense,” Zecher, 48, a Michigan State alumnus and insider, said Monday in a phone interview. “The size and complexity of the endowment got much bigger and the markets are more complicated.”
Zecher previously served on a university committee overseeing the endowment and since January has been a senior investments adviser to Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon. He was formerly a partner and chief risk officer at the Stamford, Connecticut-based currency hedge fund EQA Partners, which closed in 2012 after five years.
“Most of them have come to the conclusion that just makes much more sense to create your own investment management office with your own CIO,” Charles Skorina, an executive recruiter based in San Francisco, said Monday in a phone interview about university endowments. “It gives you the opportunity to capture an edge which you can’t do easily with a consulting firm.”
The Michigan State board of trustees approved Zecher’s appointment as chief investment officer on Dec. 18. The endowment had a staff of three people led by an investment director who, with the consulting firm Cambridge Associates, made money management recommendations to the committee overseeing the fund. Now, the CIO will have greater control over allocating assets while the role of the consultant will diminish as more employees are hired, Zecher said.