Cambridge University CIO, Senior Staff Resign

Departure reportedly linked to criticism over endowment’s fossil fuel investments.

Nick Cavalla, CIO of Cambridge University’s £3.3 billion ($4.31 billion) endowment fund, and three senior members of his staff of nine are leaving the university to join Talisman Global Asset Management, the investment arm of the privately held William Pears Group.

During Cavalla’s tenure as head of Cambridge’s investment team, he helped increase the size of the university’s endowment to £3.3 billion from less than £1 billion, and delivered a 10% return on an annualized basis for more than 10 years, according to the university.

 Cavalla will become CEO of Talisman, which was established in 1994 to be the asset management arm of the Pears family. After starting with investment capital of £50 million, the firm now has total assets under management of £3.6 billion. Joining Cavalla at Talisman are investment director Bruce Lockwood, and associate investment directors Conor Cassidy and Vincent Fruchard, according to the Financial Times.

“After 10 years at the University of Cambridge, it felt like the right time to take on a new challenge, with the endowment in great shape for the future,” Cavalla said in release. “I am very excited to be joining Talisman Global Asset Management, a high-quality investment platform, and look forward to launching a new business for them.”

 However, Cavalla’s decision to leave was related to ongoing criticism of the endowment and its investment team over its fossil fuel investments, according to two unnamed sources cited by the FT.  Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, a divestment campaign group, has been calling for Cavalla to resign for more than a year.

In June, the University’s council, which is the executive and policy-making body of Cambridge, rejected proposals from students and faculty to divest fossil fuel assets from the endowment’s portfolio.

“Pursuing a strategy that would insist on disengagement from any funds that have even small fossil fuel components, or that would require CUEF to step back from investments in alternative energy initiatives by global companies currently regarded as fossil fuel companies, would result in significant limitations on the CUEF’s ability to invest as successfully as in the past,” said the council in June in response to a report calling for fossil fuel divestment.

“Nick has done an incredible job in his time with Cambridge University,” Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope said in a release. “He has transformed the performance of our investment fund, enabling us to diversify our income in a way that has allowed the University to undertake developments which have greatly benefited our academic mission and our students.”

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