2015 Investment Management Awards: Sandra Urie

Urie is chairman and chief executive officer of Cambridge Associates and this year’s winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award.


As chairman and CEO of Cambridge Associates, Sandra Urie has played a major role in growing a small, Boston-based, U.S.-focused consulting practice into a global organization with 1,150 employees, including 300 investment consultants. Today, Cambridge has more than 1,000 clients in 30-plus countries, advising 70 percent of U.S. educational endowments and 40 percent of foundations, as well as 100-plus pension plans.

But there’s more to Urie’s award-winning performance. The Massachusetts native and Red Sox fan is a trailblazer in enlightened personnel management, allowing Cambridge’s staffers to balance challenging careers with family and personal needs.

Upon graduating from Stanford University in 1974 with a BA in Russian, Urie headed to Andover, Massachusetts, preparatory school Phillips Academy to teach the language. She soon was working on the school’s capital campaign and promoted to associate secretary and liaison to the board of trustees. “I began to understand the knowledge gap in investment and the role of the endowment in a school,” says Urie, who left the academy in 1983 to earn a master’s in public policy and management at Yale University .

In 1985, with her Yale degree and offers in hand from industry leaders Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Co., Urie chose instead to take a position at Cambridge, which at the time had only ten consultants and 30 other employees. “I felt blending financial and investment knowledge and applying it in the nonprofit sector would be a level of compensation, a psychic reward not available in the for-profit sector,” Urie recalls. She took on a client-facing role and also consulted on operations for women’s colleges and museums like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Urie became Cambridge’s first COO in the early 1990s. In February 2001 she was promoted to her current position. Prompted by the changing investment landscape — the flood of data and the complexity and proliferation of asset classes and geographies — the firm began to change its business model. Nondiscretionary consulting developed into a discretionary model as client institutions struggled to stay on top of global investing challenges. Soon came the outsourced-CIO model. A few years later Urie hired the firm’s first communications professional, who finally persuaded her, after decades of secrecy, to speak to the press. “We were letting other people tell our story,” Urie wryly notes.

Always interested in the intersection of finance and social values, the CEO now sits on the board of U.K.-based Social Finance, overseeing the organization’s mission to take social needs and turn them into financially successful outcomes. “I was and continue to be fascinated by the emergence of the social impact bond market in the U.S.,” says Urie.

For Urie her work at Cambridge was never just building a client base and gathering assets. At Cambridge, guided in part by her early experiences as a single parent, she created a culture that allowed women to thrive, including then-novel ideas like part-time work and the notion of a “continuous career.” In exchange, she was rewarded with a loyal workforce. “Women are an untapped resource,” she asserts. “If you could make it a good place for women to work, it would be good for men, too.”

The 2015 U.S. Investment Management AwardsClick to View Profile