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Michael Latimer #9 Michael Latimer CEO Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System Art by Chris Buzelli

Tenure

Long-Termism Personified

In 1936, Edsel Ford—son of Henry, the founder of the Ford Motor Company—set aside part of his fortune to start the Ford Foundation.

That donation, equivalent to roughly $430,000 in today’s money, has since grown to the $12 billion portfolio overseen by CIO Eric Doppstadt and his team from their office in New York City. 

Since first joining as the organization’s general counsel in 1989, Doppstadt has been associated with the foundation for 27 of the 80 years it has been in operation. 

“I learned a huge amount from my legal career, but I always thought it would be even more fun to be the client than the lawyer,” Doppstadt recalls.

He made the switch to the fund’s alternatives team in 1995, with his legal background proving an “excellent foundation for investment work,” he says, “especially in learning to think analytically and evaluate risks probabilistically.”

Those risks were immediately clear. From the boom and bust in leveraged buyouts at the end of the 1980s, to the tech bubble and the global financial crisis, these “cycles” helped shape Doppstadt’s investing outlook. “I have learned to think more in terms of a 25-year stock chart where very little of the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, or even year-to-year volatility is even visible,” he says. 

Just as important as the long-term approach—perhaps more so—is the realization of the Ford Foundation’s aims, the CIO adds. “It is hard to adequately describe the tangible satisfaction that my colleagues and I gain from seeing the direct results of our work in action in the foundation’s global activities.”

Just this year, the foundation has been active in countries including China, Brazil, Colombia, and Zimbabwe, while also pledging money to the city of Flint, Michigan to help it recover from its water crisis. Doppstadt and his team are tasked with ensuring this charitable work can continue in perpetuity.

“Clearly this portfolio is Eric’s baby,” says former deputy Mark Baumgartner, now CIO at the Institute for Advanced Study. “That comes through in all of his actions: It’s absolutely all about Ford and doing the best job for the beneficiaries.”

Doppstadt has built and maintained strong relationships with external managers, a hallmark of the Ford Foundation’s investment style. By the time Doppstadt joined the private markets team in the mid-1990s, the foundation had already been investing in venture capital funds run by Menlo Park, California-based Sequoia Capital for roughly 20 years. 

In 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Ford Foundation was still among Sequoia’s backers. The manager was then about to reap the rewards of the stock market listing of an up-and-coming internet company named Google. Today, Ford remains a valued investment partner, according to the venture capital group’s website.

The manager relationships and the networks they open up have been “hugely helpful,” Doppstadt says. But he hasn’t lost his attorney’s sense of skepticism.“When people know that you’ve been around the block a few times, the wool gets pulled over the eyes a lot less,” says Baumgartner. “We always used to say, ‘Just tell us about the skeletons in the closet—don’t let us find them.’ When you’ve been in the industry that long you remember a lot of the skeletons, too.”

Ask Doppstadt, though, and it’s the people, not the skeletons, he’s interested in. From the foundation’s investment committee—“the world’s best”—to the investment staff that have “enriched my own experience here immeasurably,” this CIO says he is one happy man.

As he puts it, “the chance to spend each day working with and learning from some of the world’s best investors is hard to beat.” —Nick Reeve

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