Financial services firm Perella Weinberg Partners has hired Christopher Bittman, the former chief investment officer of the University of Colorado Foundation, to become CIO of its Agility Funds asset management business. In addition, Perella Weinberg is taking over investment management of the UC Foundation’s $874 million in assets. The transaction is a significant coup for the New York–based boutique headed by Joseph Perella, the former head of mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley, and Peter Weinberg, former CEO of Goldman Sachs International, bringing Perella Weinberg’s total assets under management to $4.7 billion, $1.2 billion of which is in its Agility Fund platform. Bittman, who is being joined by his two-person UC investment team, is replacing Agility founder Bob Boldt, who will stay on as executive chairman of the Austin, Texas–based unit.
A University of Colorado alumnus, Bittman was appointed CIO of the foundation in 2004 after serving on its advisory board since 1996. Under his leadership, the UC Foundation fared better than many university endowments did during the past difficult year. Bittman says the foundation’s investment portfolio was down about 17.5 percent for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index, by contrast, fell 28.2 percent during that period.
Bittman is proud of the foundation’s track record. But, he says, the University of Colorado board of directors realized earlier this year that, with the investment environment becoming more and more complex, continuing to produce the level of returns they expect demands more resources than Bittman’s small Boulder-based team had. “Outsourcing was one option,” says Bittman. However, he adds, “there was a strong bias toward continuing to retain the existing staff and add resources.” The Perella Weinberg transaction allows the university to outsource the fund while still having Bittman and his staff very much involved.
Perella Weinberg hired Boldt, former CEO of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., in October 2007 to build Agility, a business that would offer portfolio management, asset allocation and manager selection services to smaller institutions such as university endowments. Gaining traction during the market tempest has been difficult.
“By its nature the board of trustees of a university foundation or endowment is pretty conservative,” says Terry Meguid, a founding partner and head of the asset management business at Perella Weinberg, who admits that the past 12 months have been a tough fundraising environment. “I think the view on the part of many boards was that the middle of a storm is no time to be changing captains.”
Meguid is hopeful the mood has changed. “People have awakened and realize life has to go on,” he says. “These foundations have liabilities, they have obligations they need to meet. The world is different, and we’ve seen that they are more open to looking at different options.”
When he was in Colorado, Bittman organized an annual conference for an exclusive group of fellow university foundation and endowment CIOs. He says the question that always came up was: Do these institutions have enough investment resources to remain competitive?
“The conclusion for a lot of institutions going forward is going to be maybe not,” he says. Perella Weinberg, and firms like it, hope to be the beneficiaries of that stark reality.
Last Updated: July 14, 2009