Oxford hires Robertson as CIO

Sandra Robertson, previously a senior investment professional at the Wellcome Trust, has been appointed as the first Chief Investment Officer of Oxford University. Oxford wants to utilise her experience in alternative asset investing to boost returns.

Sandra Robertson, former co-head of portfolio management at the Wellcome Trust charity, has been appointed as Oxford University’s first ever Chief Investment Officer, as the university looks to emulate the success of the large US university endowments.

The appointment of Robertson, who was responsible for alternative investments and private equity at the £14 billion Wellcome Trust, will be seen as a coup for the university, and suggests it is looking to diversify its portfolio into alternative assets.

Robertson will oversee the university’s central endowment, which is currently worth about £900 million – small compared to some of the biggest US universities.

A further £2.7 billion of endowment funds are managed by the individual colleges within Oxford, who currently run their funds independently. However, there is likely to be a mechanism introduced to allow colleges to invest in the central endowment pools too, which would give Robertson a bigger pool to play with.

Robertson will report to a newly-formed investment committee chaired by Richard Oldfield, which in turn reports directly to Council, the executive body of the university.

The new investment office is part of Oxford’s drive to increase its income, an area where it has lagged behind rival Cambridge in recent years. Cambridge has already appointed its first chief investment officer, recruiting Nick Cavalla, the former chief investment officer of Man Global Strategies, last November.

Both universities are looking to emulate the success enjoyed by the likes of the Yale University endowment in the US, which has enjoyed annualised returns of 17 percent since inception – thanks partly to investing heavily in private equity and other alternative assets.

Wellcome Trust director Mark Walport said: ‘UK universities have lagged far behind their US counterparts in the size and quality of management of their endowments. It is important that UK universities enhance their endowments as an additional funding source to keep them in the forefront of education, scholarship and research.”