Inside the Wide-Open, Super-Competitive Search for Northwestern’s Next CIO

“Truly, there’s no frontrunner right now.”

(Bigstock photo)

(Bigstock photo)

Northwestern University has commenced the search for its next investment chief — arguably the most sought-after institutional job opening at present.

The role comes with an $11 billion portfolio to run, a team of professionals to oversee, prestige, a worthy mission, and yearly compensation north of $2 million, judging by the prior CIO’s package.

Talented candidates have piled in already, including chief investment officers of other smaller or less prestigious institutions, according to several applicants and inside sources. But the race is also anyone’s game.

Northwestern’s prior CIO William McLean announced months ago that he’d taken the top job at Spider Management — a move some found surprising. Spider is an outsourced-CIO operation, born from the University of Richmond’s endowment office, that runs other institutions’ portfolios for a fee.

Leading such firms is a typical pre-retirement stop for CIOs of major pension funds or public institutions, where the portfolios are vast but the paychecks less so. For example, Jay Willoughby, the head of investing for Alaska’s $50 billion sovereign wealth fund, stepped down in 2015 to run outsourcer TIFF. But roles like Northwestern’s tend to be career pinnacles: There’s not many places to go up from there.

McLean earned $2.37 million in total compensation for the 2018 fiscal year, per the latest disclosure available. He officially stepped down as of October 16.


Northwestern managing director Amy Diamond was widely seen as his heir apparent, knowledgeable sources said. She was expected to get the role first on an interim basis and then permanently following a formal search process.

But the University of Southern California got there first. Diamond took that CIO role instead, leaving Northwestern with a wide-open race and no clear frontrunners.

[II Deep Dive: Amy Diamond Leaves Northwestern for USC CIO Gig]

Northwestern recently hired David Barrett Partners — the recruiting firm behind Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Cambridge’s investment leaders, among many others — to run its search, a school spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

“We are looking for someone who can build upon Will McLean’s strong success at Northwestern and the talented team he has assembled,” the spokesperson told Institutional Investor. “We will look broadly and seek diversity of experience and background in our candidate pool. We anticipate identifying a successful candidate early in the new year. Interested candidates should contact David Barrett Partners.”

The Illinois university — whose student body is known for rigorous intellect — does not plan to name an interim CIO. “While the search continues, the four remaining managing directors, senior vice president for business and finance Craig Johnson, and the investment committee will have oversight of the endowment,” the spokesperson said.

The same committee will ultimately select Northwestern’s next CIO, and oversee his or her stewardship. They’ll surely have an abundance of talent to choose from, insiders say.

As one CIO at another university remarked upon hearing of the opening, “I am throwing in my hat so hard.”