Colin Ambrose may not be able to tell a treble clef from a bass clef, but that hasn't stopped him from being welcomed at Juilliard. Fortunately, his performance at the century-old New York school, arguably America's most prestigious music, dance and drama conservatory, will be measured in percentage points, not pitch-perfect notes: He's Juilliard's first chief investment officer.
Under the circumstances, Ambrose, 36, can't help but feel a bit remiss about not playing an instrument. "I'm probably the least musical person at the school," he admits. "But I do have a musical family. My in-laws were both professional musicians, and my wife took piano lessons from Baruch Arnon, a professor at Juilliard, when she was a little girl, and she has played ever since."
Juilliard's board of trustees, which has plenty of talent of its own -- including the school's chairman, Bruce Kovner, who's the founder of secretive hedge fund Caxton Corp., as well as Citigroup CEO Charles Prince -- saw fit to entrust Ambrose with the day-to-day oversight of the school's $570 million endowment. This august group was impressed with Ambrose's work in his previous job, as a senior analyst responsible for alternative investments at Wesleyan University. Before Wesleyan the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute MBA worked at UBS, helping its institutional clients with portfolio strategy and asset allocation.
The young CIO expects to take the lead in overseeing portfolio allocations and forging new relationships with outside money managers, relieving the trustees of the gritty due diligence required to suss out fresh talent. Given his alternative-investment background, Ambrose especially wants to develop contacts with emerging managers pursuing unusual opportunities in private equity, venture capital, hedge funds and hard assets like commodities and real estate.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime," he says, sounding a little awed. "It's Juilliard."