The most notable CIO-centric event of 2020 in the endowment world was undoubtedly the retirement of Scott Malpass as chief investment officer at Notre Dame.

Mr. Malpass was just a dewy 25 years old and relatively inexperienced when Notre Dame recruited him as “assistant investment officer” in 1988.

He was already effectively in charge that year, but decorously waited for his predecessor to retire in 1989 to officially take the CIO title.

In 2020 he punched out as smoothly as he had punched in.

His successor, Michael Donovan, had been Mr. Malpass’ wingman for 20 years. They had been undergraduate classmates (and roommates) in ND’s class of 1984, making them both about 58 in 2020.

Although he is ferociously devoted to his school, Mr. Malpass chose not to hang on until standard retirement age. Instead he passed the baton early enough to leave plenty of career runway for his colleague and successor.

Badly executed successions can be ruinous in institutional investing. The examples have been too notorious to list. This is how the pros do it.

Mr. Malpass had 32 years in harness when he stepped down last year and was the longest-serving endowment CIO we know of, with the prominent exception of Yale’s David Swensen, 35 years and counting.

Longevity is great (at least for the incumbent) but it’s performance that counts. And, although the Yale endowment is far more prominent, Notre Dame’s performance has been remarkably good, and only very slightly behind the top northeastern schools. Casual observers may have missed that.

Mr. Swensen has earned his fame. But we suspect that the attention paid to Yale and the relative inattention to Notre Dame has much to do with the regional chauvinism of the financial press.

For the media, a Catholic college in Indiana will never have quite the cachet of the Ivy League.

Take a look at our 5-year performance numbers below. Allowing for ties, the 5-year return ranking is:

No. 1: Brown (9.8)

No. 2: MIT (9.0)

No. 3: Rockefeller/ Bowdoin (tie) (8.5)

No. 4: Yale/ Dartmouth/ UTIMCO (tie) (7.8)

No.  5: Notre Dame/ Princeton/ Williams (tie) (7.7)

By this reckoning, the recent performance of the Notre Dame Model is just a whisker behind the Yale Model. In fact, Notre Dame beat Yale in 3 of the last 4 years.

This is so interesting that we thought we should reach back to our longer-term Yale versus Notre Dame dataset.

Twenty years is a nice, round number, and we can’t think of any other such pairing that could put the same two long-serving CIOs head to head. But we pushed back 21 years to capture the Dotcom Meltdown beginning in the second half of that fiscal year.

Notre Dame versus Yale endowment performance

FY 2000-2020

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