Trustee, Nathan Cummings Foundation
Associate, Nathan Cummings Foundation
By the fall of 2008 there were moments that felt to me - particularly my day job - to be the emotional equivalent - I’m not proud of this in a sense - but it was almost the emotional equivalent to 9/11 because it really felt like there was a chance that the financial world as we know it, not the actual world, might be forever gone. It’s often said that the four most dangerous words in investing is “It’s different this time” - but when things were as acutely painful as they were in the fall of 2008, it really did feel to many who, myself included, who had been successful in staying above the fray, that this fray was sucking everything into it. And so those were some stresses and all these times there’s questions of investment, but there’s also questions of what it means for funding the foundation’s mission and how much we can afford to spend if the world has permanently changed. Turns out it hasn’t but still there’s this issue of should we think differently about how much we can afford to spend.
I think it was a focus of all the investment committee meetings up until more recently and I think the foundation did the right thing on the investment front, which was to not change much. That was a healthy debate but, in the end, the arguments that “the future is less knowable than it feels like it is” kinda won and we did some things in the margin but really stayed pretty exposed on the risk front which enabled us to reap the rewards that came when the world began to get more comfortable that it wasn't different this time.
I think the foundation can be proud that we have not overreacted. It’s been the opposite. We’ve never been so concerned that we’ve had to do something. My concern has been more that some around the table we’d lose will to stick with things that were painful at the time.
The state of the investment committee is really good now. The outside or the non-family members are very strong. I think with the family involvement we see a universal enthusiasm and interest and kind of respect for expertise that will actually help the family learn about this function. There’s a respect for expertise balanced with the likely benefits of fresh eyes coming without a lot of preconceptions to ask questions. So I feel that the "state of the state," if you will, is in really good shape in terms of my departure.