A flippant, fearless, and fundamental countdown of big money investing.

50 48

#49 Lunch

Lunch with CIO

An out-of-the-way table to discuss out-of-the-way investments—that was the purpose of lunch with Jason Klein, CIO for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s $4 billion of long-term capital. “Sounds familiar and comfortable,” Klein emailed the morning of our meeting. “I’m in.”

On the dot of 12:30, as agreed, we met on a midtown Manhattan corner. The options were two, the only stipulation being “not fancy”: Sushi or Mexican. An audible was called; the raw fish won. The excessively generic Asian Station would enjoy our corporate largesse. The sushi bar would be our interview room.

The steaming green tea to start, cleansing the palate of lingering tastes, had the opposite effect on the bespectacled Klein. When asked how his year has been, Klein opened with the unsettled months of January and February. “It was a reminder that deep due diligence of managers, and their portfolios, is always needed,” he said between sips and glances at the menu. “It exposed tourist capital. Focus is key.”

The same could not be said of Asian Station. The menu resembled a midsized novel, pages upon pages of “Asia’s” finest. Options included the quotidian (“Tuna Roll”) and the confounding (“Hot Lover Roll”?). Sashimi options alone could fill a small-town phonebook. Choice, as in the world of asset management, was excessive.  

Sashimi options alone resembled a small-town phonebook. Choice, as in the world of asset management, was excessive.But choices must be made: Tuna avocado and yellowtail rolls, plus mackerel sashimi, Klein told the server. A dollop of salmon roe, wrapped in rice paper, would be his coup de grâce. My tastes ran more piquant (spicy shrimp and tuna rolls) and bare (octopus and squid sashimi, no salmon eggs). The server departed; our conversation continued. Did the early-2015 hiccup cause him to pull capital? “No. But we pulled back on one manager as we were about to commit.” Any hesitancy was short-lived. “We are now, as always, looking for investments where others aren’t. We want to be the only institution in some investments, as scary as that can be.”

By the food’s arrival, the conversation—as it so often does—had veered from portfolios to the more personal. Was he happy with his job? “Exceedingly,” he replied. If he was faking it, Klein’s was an Oscar-worthy performance. Having led the hospital fund for eight years, he seemed a duke in his domain. “I have three great deputies, 14 great team members, and a solid understanding of what the organization’s needs are,” he said. The many vacant roles beckoning ambitious investment chiefs (Irvine Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, among others) sway him not.

Nor does the soy sauce. Klein ate his fish unadorned. Non-­business conversation continues; it’s awkward talking business with one’s mouth full at the best of times, let alone when filled with two dozen plump salmon eggs.

The cutting boards substituting as plates were cleared, the conversation having outlasted the food. Tea is finished; we spilled onto the midday street. “That was good sushi,” he said, marked surprise in his voice. “We’ll have to do this again.”

E_NOTICE Error in file footer.php at line 182: Undefined variable: auther_name