Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Theory of Relativity

David Swenson, a fellow midwesterner, has done a stellar job of managing Yale's endowment. Featured in today's Business Section of the NYTimes, he is the model of a person who has arrived at "enough", for whom work and mission align. The fruits of his extraordinary accomplishments, expanding the Yale endowment by many billions, have allowed Yale to offer needs blind admissions. This allows high-achieving, low income students to attend Yale debt-free.

Swenson has turned down countless offers to manage wealthy people's money; these positions would pay more than he earns at Yale by significant multipliers. “People think working for something other than the most money you could get is an odd concept, but it seems a perfectly natural concept to me,” he says. He is very happy with what he does for Yale, and has no interest in leaving for hedgier, greedier environments. I loved reading about his values and mindset. While he would make boatloads more money making rich people richer, he declines to do so. “On one level you could always imagine some greater creature comfort or having more toys or more houses. That would be nice. But it certainly does not drive me.”

There is one detail that makes Mr. Swenson a bit different from most of us, in addition to the fact that he routinely turns down opportunities to make tens of millions of dollars a year. Mr. Swenson earns $1,200,000.00 a year at Yale. He is not exactly wearing a hair shirt. However, this is money well-spent by Yale and Mr. Swenson is content. He could earn gazillions more, but has opted not to. I think it points out that beyond a certain point, more money doesn't get you much; Mr. Swenson understands and models this.

The question is just: what is that certain point?

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