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Why Cliff Robbins Decided to Close Blue Harbour Group

Robbins plans to return $2 billion of capital to investors this year.

Cliff Robbins says he began thinking about closing his activist hedge fund firm, Blue Harbour Group, over Thanksgiving weekend.

But, it wasn’t until spending time with his family, including his octogenarian parents, in Florida during the Christmas holidays that he decided, along with his wife, that it was time for a big life change, Robbins said Friday by phone. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Friday that Robbins is shutting down Blue Harbour, which has $2 billion of assets under management, to set up a family office. 

Robbins originally thought he would make the move later this year, but changed his mind after having difficulty making job offers to two key people he wanted to hire.

“I couldn’t make the offer,” he told Institutional Investor. “I knew in the back of my mind I myself was thinking of making the change.”

Unlike other high-profile hedge fund managers, who in the past few years have shut down their firms after one or two lousy years of performance, Robbins is going out on top. Last year his fund was up 33 percent and has produced a 14.4 percent annualized gain since its inception, according to his Friday letter to clients announcing his decision to shut down.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Robbins. “After 40 years I am looking forward to catching my breath.”

Robbins said he plans to spend most of this year unwinding his hedge fund and returning $2 billion of capital to investors. After that, Robbins said he will do “something in business” or “philanthropy.”

[II Deep Dive: Hedge Funds Deliver Biggest Gains in a Decade]

Robbins founded Blue Harbour in 2004, pursuing what he called “a private equity approach to the public markets.” 

He considered himself a “friendly activist” because he mostly avoided boisterous, contentious public battles or proxy fights with companies he was prodding to boost shareholder value. Robbins was also early to integrate environmental, social, and governance criteria into his investment process, treating ESG issues with the same stature as financial metrics and strategic considerations, Robbins, told clients in his letter Friday.

In the letter, Robbins said “it is possible that our long-term success and the growing interest in both activist engagement and ESG integration strategies could cause a partnership opportunity with a third party to emerge that would warrant consideration.” But Robbins added, “my expectation is that we will remain on the path of returning investors’ capital…and closing the funds later this year.”

Before starting Blue Harbour, Robbins was a general partner of private equity giant KKR & Co. and a managing member of General Atlantic, according to his bio on Blue Harbour’s website. Over the years, Robbins has served on the board of directors of more than 15 public and private companies, the website shows.

He is a long-time member of the Boards of Overseers and Managers of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and serves as vice chairman of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council. Robbins said he also supports the United Jewish Appeal.


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