Columbia Investment Main Blazes Path Close to Her Harlem Roots

(Bloomberg) — It’s quick to contact Kim Lew a pathbreaker.

Her journey has taken her from Harlem to Harvard College — and now back again to the Ivy League, this time as main govt officer of Columbia University’s endowment, valued at about $13.5 billion. That article helps make Lew, 54, section of an elite club of three girls that oversee money at the Ivies.

Born in Harlem to a Chinese father and an African-American mother who had been adolescents at the time, Lew was elevated in the Bronx. She landed a spot at Bronx Large College of Science, a single of New York’s top rated community colleges, and then attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton College. It was a earth away from her house.

“I didn’t just develop up in the Bronx, I grew up in the housing assignments in the Bronx,” Lew said in a tv interview on “Bloomberg Prosperity with David Rubenstein.” “And there were being extremely handful of people today that went to college, permit alone a university like Penn.”

Soon after abandoning options to be an accountant, she entered the credit training software at Chemical Lender, went to Harvard Company Faculty and ended up in nonprofits. Her posts included encouraging lead non-public-equity investments at the Ford Foundation and turning out to be chief investment decision officer of Carnegie Corp. of New York.

In November, she moved to Columbia, having more than an financial investment place of work nonetheless smarting from the 2016 departure of N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, who led the college to some of its finest returns and now runs Harvard’s endowment. Lew’s endeavor will be to restore Columbia’s performance, a purpose with urgency specified that the fund returned 5.5% in the year ended June 2020 — rating it sixth out of the eight Ivies.

Lew’s job interview with Rubenstein has been edited and condensed. It’s remaining broadcast Tuesday at 9 p.m. New York time.

Q: As you appear at the expenditure environment, what makes you the most nervous? The most optimistic?

A: I’m most optimistic about technological innovation. It is solving so a lot of of the world’s complications. I do think that we’re likely see remedies to the local climate problem. The biotech field is awash with excellent prospects and outstanding folks solving complications. I’m most pessimistic about so several large environment difficulties that are not items that we as investors can forecast the results of. And given that we cannot forecast the results of these form of huge, worldwide, geopolitical concerns, we’re making an attempt to commit close to them and striving to hedge as most effective we can.

Q: When you went to Wharton, did you say: These people are pretty clever, they have better backgrounds than I do, they are wealthier?

A: It is a lot more apparent and considerably more tough for college students who appear from inadequate backgrounds now than when I was there. The wealthis conspicuous now in a way that was not the situation back then.

Q: In rising to be head of Columbia’s endowment, was the increase up damage extra by the fact that you are a female or a man or woman of colour? Or did it not affect you at all?

A: There are quite a few issues for gals and people today of colour to get alternatives in this area, mainly because it tends to be connection driven and community pushed. And certainly — primarily another person like me, who’s occur from a background in which I did not know any individual rising up that had associations in this area — your identify is not as perfectly recognized or you’re not as conveniently recognized as others would be.

Q: What do you seem for when you’re using the services of professionals?

A: I begin with their system. Is their approach unique? Does it provide the possibility for them to make outsized returns? Then I look at their group. Have they made and designed an firm that supports their tactic and would make sense? Then I search at their alignment. Are they aligned with this establishment and are they dealing with us as associates? Do they have large integrity? And are they imagining about the prolonged expression in the exact same way that we’re considering about it?

Q: From time to time alums and other people say universities ought to disengage and not commit in oil or fuel or other kinds of items that are socially controversial. How do you offer with these troubles?

A: It is really critical for the financial investment arm of any institution to be aligned with the values of an institution. On the other hand, as a chief government officer of the endowment, I want to have as couple limits as I perhaps can for the reason that my principal aim is the return. But I really don’t imagine that we can do that at the expense of values. And so Columbia has been incredibly apparent that they have a worth all-around sustainability.

Q: What is the ideal investment decision suggestions you’ve at any time received?

A: It is the point that we are in the business enterprise of getting danger. If you want to generate returns, you have to be willing to take threat and examine and mitigate that possibility the most effective you can. And to make certain that the return potential of an expenditure is equivalent to the danger. But you cannot avoid chance.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.