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Endowment under new management

By Hallie Jordan     10/22/09 7:00pm

With the creation of the Rice Management Company at the beginning of this month, the endowment received a new organization to oversee its investments. The new organization will be headed by President of the Rice Management Company Scott Wise, formerly the vice president for investments, and a 10-member board of directors. Of the 10 members, seven currently serve on the Rice Board of Trustees and comprise part of a finance committee within the board, while the other three were recruited from outside the university, based on their background in financing, Wise said.

"This new system allows us to bring in really top-notch outside members, which was hard to do under the old system," Chairman of the Board of Trustees Jim Crownover said. "We are able to bring some real talent on board and to the Rice Management Company, who bring dedication to Rice as well as investment expertise."

Previously, the endowment had been assessed and invested by Wise, who had served as vice president for investments and treasurer since 1992, and his financial office. His office worked with the endowment and also managed other departments, such as Internal Audit and Insurance and Risk Management.

The Rice Management Company will focus solely on working with the endowment. Internal Audit will be managed by the Vice President for Finance Kathy Collins and Insurance and Risk Management will be managed by the Office of Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby.

"We have the opportunity for a greater focus by myself and the rest of the investment staff," Wise said. "With this separate company it is clear that our role is dedicated to full-time management of the endowment portfolio."

The plan to create the company was not spurred by the recession, but proposed well before the economic downturn, Crownover said.

"We had, by and large, decided to do this before we had the downturn last year," Crownover said. "We are always looking for better ways to manage the endowment. I don't see the recession as really affecting us at all."

Wise said other universities, such as Princeton University, Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis also have similar management companies to direct their finances.

Wise said the board of directors of the Rice Management Company will give advice and oversee the investments that his office make.

Though the philosophy of the previous investment staff will remain the same, Wise said the directors will help influence specific financing moves. Wise said they were still working out the details of how responsibilities would be split between the staff.

"We are making decisions all the time about new ways to deploy the capital," Wise said. "It is a very ongoing and dynamic process. The more voices of wisdom that we have access to, hopefully, the better results we will have."

From the standpoint of the students, the change in governance of the endowment will be hardly noticeable, as the company will continue to operate with the same objectives, Wise said.

"We know so little about the endowment that it is hard to make a qualification if this is a good or bad decision," Jones College sophomore Jonathan Stewart said. "There is not a very transparent record of what is going on with the endowment.

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