May 6, 2021 - Economy

Yale's chief investment manager David Swensen dies at 67

David Swensen

Photo: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Yale's legendary chief investment manager David Swensen has died after a long battle with cancer, the university's president announced Thursday.

The big picture: Swensen had one major insight that utterly transformed the world of endowments, foundations, and sovereign wealth funds: That investors pay a substantial premium for liquidity.

  • As the steward of a perpetuity (the Yale endowment) that brings in fresh donations every year, Swensen realized he didn't need liquidity, and so could capture a substantial premium to the market by investing in illiquid assets instead.
  • The growth of venture capital over the past 30 years owes much to Swensen, as does similar growth in other alternative assets such as private equity, hedge funds, and even timberland.

Our thought bubble: As Swensen would be the first to say, don't try this at home. Liquidity is fantastic for individual investors. But Swensen's core insight underpins the investing philosophy of major institutional investors around the world.

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