2014 Top Large Endowment Investor: William McLean

The CIO of Northwestern University grew the endowment’s assets from $3.2 billion in 2002 to $9 billion today.

Will McLean
William McLean

William McLean

William McLean has devoted his entire career to endowment and foundation investing. He has served as investment officer at the Duke University endowment in Charlotte, North Carolina, and held a senior position in asset and investment management at the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In January 2002, McLean was appointed chief investment officer of Northwestern University in Evanston, responsible for managing the assets of the then-$3.2 billion portfolio. Today, McLean oversees $9 billion in assets with the help of a relatively small team of ten investment professionals. “I inherited good people with a strong culture,” says the exceptionally modest McLean, 58, who holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina and sees his primary role as caretaker of an investment fund that depends to a large extent on the efforts of others. He also credits good fund governance and the integration of the investment office within the broader university finance team for the success of the portfolio. McLean has piloted the fund to a ten-year return of 9.4 percent, compared with 8.3 percent for endowments with more than $1 billion in assets, as tracked by the annual Nacubo-Commonfund Study of Endowments. A trustee of the University of Richmond and a board member of Mather LifeWays, the Sherman Fairchild Foundation and the TIFF Charitable Foundation, McLean also sits on the investment advisory committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.