Dave Swensen, the innovative Chief Investment Officer at Yale University, was a trusted partner and long time friend to many of us at Greylock.
He is widely credited with transforming the course of institutional investing, and building an enduring legacy through mentorship of the next generation of endowment managers.
His influence can be felt throughout the entire venture capital industry. Dave led Yale’s first investment as an LP in Greylock in 1990, and over the past three decades, he had a profound impact on our firm.
With Dave’s passing, a few of our partners who knew him well wanted to share their personal thoughts about his life, his influence, and his legacy.
Dave Swensen passed away last night in New Haven, CT. He had been fighting cancer for many years now – a cancer that when discovered was expected to allow him only months to live. Like in so many things, Dave defied the odds, forged his own path, and with laser focus and optimism proved the “experts” wrong by continuing to live a full life for many years.
Dave’s love of Yale and commitment to the organization was — and still is — unprecedented in the endowment world. He bled Bulldog Blue through and through.
Dave’s accomplishments are those of legend. His “coaching” tree of Yale Investement Office alums is Parcells and Walsh-esque. His revolution of the endowment world was monumental. And his massive outperformance in the Yale endowment since 1985 has allowed Yale the thrive and keep up with endowments that received consistently more capital contributions than his. Yale President Salovey does a nice job of summarizing his many life accomplishments and impact, and I encourage everyone to read his thoughtful statement.
I’ll add that in addition to Dave’s professional accomplishments, and much more importantly, Dave was a wonderful human. I am fortunate to have gotten to know Dave in two contexts: Yale and Greylock. And I can tell you that in addition to Yale, Dave also bled Greylock Blue. Dave was consistently a huge supporter of Greylock through thick and thin. He would often point to Greylock for our success, culture, commitment to doing business “the right way,” and the way we nurture our partnership with our LPs. As a longtime member of our Advisory Board, he would never shy from challenging us, providing a valuable insight, or standing up for us in difficult times, even if others wavered.
I was blessed to know him via my involvement with Greylock and as a trustee of Yale. I can tell you he was world class in both contexts. I have lost a good friend, as have many others at Greylock. Greylock has lost a champion, icon and member of the family.
It’s a sad day for us all.
David was a leader, a competitor, and a caring and humble person.
David was a brilliant manager of the Yale investment Office. I had the privilege of serving on the Yale Investment Committee, and saw his leadership first hand. Not only was David a pioneer in asset allocation, he was an extraordinary team builder and leader. I was always impressed on how well he hired and build his investment team, how he delegated authority to his colleagues, how he solicited everyone’s opinions, and how proud he was when his colleagues were hired away to be Chief Investment Officers of other endowments or family offices. He was a spectacular mentor.
David loved all Yale Sports and really all sports. He forged a strong relationship with Tom Beckham as soon as Ton arrived at Yale to become the new Athletic Director, from Stanford. Tom was a guest speaker at an Investment Committee dinner almost before his bags were unpacked. That forged an important friendship for the next 20 years. David was a Packer and Aaron Rodgers fan, an enthusiastic golfer and a tennis player. I think he loved the thrill of competition- whether in a sporting event or in the performance of Yale’s endowment each fiscal year.
David was a caring husband and father. During his final years fighting cancer, he was always thinking of fun events for his family even if he couldn’t participate. I was always happy to answer David’s request for Red Sox tickets for Meghan and her brothers, for World Series tickers for his son and for a round of golf for his son at Fishers Island. He was always thinking of others.
David was admirably humble. For all his success and his recognition as an investment guru, David was always more interested in you and what you were doing instead of talking about himself. One always came away from a meeting with David feeling better about oneself.