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Harvard Management taps new CEO from Columbia endowment

Harvard Management Co.’s new CEO had the track record to set himself apart, according to an executive with the search firm tasked with finding candidates for the top spot.

Nirmal P. “Narv” Narvekar on Thursday was named president and CEO of Boston-based HMC, which manages Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University’s $35.7 billion endowment. Effective Dec. 5, he will replace interim CEO Robert Ettl, who took over the role after Stephen Blyth resigned as CEO in July for personal reasons. Mr. Ettl will resume his role as chief operating officer.

Mr. Narvekar was president and CEO of Columbia University Investment Management Co., which oversees the investment strategy for Columbia’s $9 billion endowment.

Executive search firm David Barrett Partners conducted a search for a permanent replacement.

“There was a high level of interest. The search committee had very good options,” said David Barrett, managing partner of the search firm, in a phone interview. “But ultimately, Narv’s track record both as an investor and as a team leader clearly distinguished him.”

Columbia University's endowment returned 7.6% on its investments for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2015. Its annualized five-year and 10-year returns for fiscal year 2015, net of fees, were 12.3% and 10.1%, respectively. The New York-based university has not yet released its fiscal year 2016 figures.

Effective Oct. 3, Mr. Narvekar will be replaced by Peter Holland, now the Columbia endowment’s chief investment officer, confirmed Columbia spokesman David Stone.

Harvard University's endowment posted a -2% return for the fiscal year ended June 30, below the 1% return of Harvard's benchmark policy portfolio.

In a release, Mr. Narvekar said he was honored to help support the mission of Harvard University.

“I look forward to working with the HMC board and team and using my investment experience to serve Harvard in the most effective way possible.”

Mr. Narvekar was not available for further comment.

Charles A. Skorina, founder of San Francisco-based executive search firm Charles A. Skorina & Co., which specializes in the hiring of chief investment officers, said in an interview that although Mr. Narvekar is certainly a smart and talented investor and leader, he has challenges ahead.

“I hope he has the mandate to do what he feels he needs to do. If what's needed is to come in and shake things up, it'll be a good job,” he said. “He's got to be the lion in the cage; he can't let the bureaucracy win. The bureaucracy will push back.”

Scale is another challenge. Mr. Skorina noted that Mr. Narvekar is “used to doing a good job with 20 to 25 people. Now, he's in a situation where he's got 10 times the people. It can overwhelm someone.”