From left to right: Christine Giordano, head of news and institutional content, Markets Group; Rich Hall, CIO of UTIMCO; Steve LeBlanc, Chairman and CEO of White Stone Associates; Hall of Fame inductee Thomas Britton "Britt" Harris IV, president and CEO, and former Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of UTIMCO; Jerry Albright, retired CIO of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Jason Kaspar, CEO of Kaspar Companies. Photo credit: Molly Stemwedel
AUSTIN - Thomas Britton "Britt" Harris IV, president and CEO, and former Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of UTIMCO, The University of Texas / Texas A&M Investment Management Company, was inducted into the Markets Group/Institutional Allocator Chief Investment Officer Hall of Fame for the contributions, innovations, and leadership he has brought to the financial industry and to the allocator community at large.
The ceremony, during which Harris was given an enthusiastic standing ovation, took place as part of the Markets Group 9th Annual Texas Institutional Forum, at the Driskill Hotel in Austin. The room was filled to standing-room only capacity, with allocators and investors from the industry at large. Rich Hall, chief investment officer (CIO) of UTIMCO; Jerry Albright, retired CIO of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), Steve LeBlanc, Chairman and CEO of White Stone Associates and formerly the leader of Real Return investments at TRS and Jason Kaspar, CEO of Kaspar Companies and a member of Harris’ 800 member Titan network all gave speeches to induct Harris during the ceremony in recognition of Harris’ distinguished career.
For more than thirty years, Harris has brought effective strategy and cohesiveness to some of the most notable investment organizations in the United States. He has mentored hundreds of finance professionals and his unique career spans both private and public sectors from corporate, to public plans to endowments. He has been a member of the President’s Working Group for Financial Markets and an advisor to the New York and Dallas Federal Reserve boards. Before Harris became CEO and president at the University of Texas/Texas A&M University Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), (the largest public endowment in America) Harris was CIO and president of Verizon Investment Management Corporation, CEO of Bridgewater Associates, CIO of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, and managing director for Asea Brown Boveri in Europe. Harris began his career in Dallas with Texas Utilities (now TWU.) and is also an executive professor for “Titans of Investing” at his alma mater Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin and serves on a variety of public and private boards. He has also been an advisor to several of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.
The Markets Group - Institutional Allocator Hall of Fame Award for Chief Investment Officers recognizes a chief investment officer’s influence on the financial industry, career accomplishments, and overall contributions and collaborations within the broader allocator community.
The Hall of Fame award was presented following a special fireside chat with Harris moderated by Christine Giordano, editor in chief of Markets Group’s content and Institutional Allocator newsletter.
When word spread that Harris was about to receive the Hall of Fame award from Markets Group, industry leaders responded by emailing us accolades on how he has influenced the financial industry. For what follows below, we thought we’d keep their comments (featured in italic type) as whole as possible, so readers can ascertain their full context.
Those who know Harris well consider his contributions to the Financial industry akin to a ministry. He’s been known to say, “our work is our Calcutta.” He’s introduced partnerships, investment vehicles, mentored finance professionals into at least six CIO roles, and has spent years of his life teaching future investors. He laid the foundation to rebuild Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) after the Great Financial Crisis reduced it to $67 billion in AUM, and set it on course to be the leviathan it is today under Britt’s protegé, Jase Auby.
At TRS, the 6th largest fund in the United States, Harris is credited with forming the first Private Markets strategic partnerships, opening a London office, moving the investment team to a new location and putting a compensation plan in place that kept TRS very competitive for talent, “with a performance payment which is not easy to do in the Public Fund arena,” said Jerry Albright, who worked with Harris as his deputy CIO and took the CIO post after his departure for the $65 billion investment and endowment assets at UTIMCO.
He reflected on how the famed CIO earned his nickname.
“He was known as the Bulldozer,” noted Albright in good humor to Markets Group. “He is well aware of the designation. If he thought the fund or the team needed something he would simply set a straight path and bulldoze down whatever he needed to clear the path for the team to achieve the goal. Sometimes it was just brush sometimes it was a mighty oak grove Nothing stood in his way.”
(Editor’s note, we recently learned his long-term executive assistant, Sharon Toalson, shared a photo of herself driving a bulldozer when she applied for the job and became the obvious match for the position.)
When Harris became UTIMCO’s CIO, he set to work creating a unique corporate culture that integrated an employee’s sense of purpose with their work ethic and investing acumen. He then passed the reigns to current CIO Rich Hall, who had worked with him at TRS for six years. Hall reflected,
“Both times I have worked with Britt, one of the first things he does is inclusively work with the team to define what our culture is all about. Then he establishes processes so that every person in the organization receives regular feedback on how they are aligning with the culture and its values. It’s incredibly transformative and impactful when you have everyone in a firm focused on doing the right thing in the right way.”
Earlier in his career, when he was CIO of Verizon, Harris was also responsible for helping to mentor one of the most respected CIOs on the corporate side of the industry, Robin Diamonte, now CIO of Raytheon During her early investment career at Verizon, he asked her to work for him and she began in his research department, and has been credited in the past by Harris as helping to take the fund to the next level. There, Harris was known to challenge the investment team and the young engineer who had gone to night school to earn her MBA.
“Britt was a demanding but inspirational boss,” Diamonte reflected in an email to this reporter. “To this day, I’ve never met anyone with such intellectual curiosity and a drive for knowledge. He had a way of surrounding himself with the most brilliant minds. He would gather concepts and knowledge, synthesize them into the most important ideas and then build and create. He created world class teams, investment strategies, tactical positions, teachings, etc. You honestly never knew what he would come up with next. We often said that he was on to the next great idea before his team could implement all the steps from the previous one.
He was unique in that he loved to win, but wanted to make sure that the whole team won too and no one was left behind. He truly cared about his employees and their families.
I would never be where I am today, not even close, if I didn’t have his support, guidance, and trust. I know that hundreds, and yes I mean hundreds of people, can say the same thing. Britt inspired us all to reach beyond what we thought was possible. Britt is a true “Multiplier – a leader who uses his intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them,” said Diamonte.
True to form, another example of a Harris investment staff member becoming CIO is David Veal, CIO of ERS (The Employees Retirement System of Texas), now one of the top performing funds in the United States. David Veal, CIO of [ST7] Veal came to the Hall of Fame ceremony to applaud Harris’ career, and reflected, “My friendship with Britt over the last 15 years has formed me into not only a smarter investor but also a better husband, father and friend. Literally not a day goes by without me considering how Britt would think about a given question or engage with a particular issue. His example reminds me that life is not ultimately about striving for success but rather about achieving significance through a life poured out in the service of others.”
Bob Prince, co-CIO of Bridgewater Associates and one of the founders of the hedge fund, worked with Harris for decades and observed how his strategies, as well as how his innovations, have flourished over time.
“For forty years Britt Harris has pushed forward the cutting edge of institutional asset management,” Prince wrote in an email to Markets Group upon hearing about the Hall of Fame award. “As a first-mover in such areas as private equity, currency overlay, alpha overlay, the institutional use of hedge funds and risk parity, he not only advanced the quality of funds under his responsibility to the benefit of the recipients, but also catalyzed industries and cleared a path for others to follow in the advancement of the institutional asset management. Another example is his use of Strategic Partnerships to fuel innovation and insight, a practice that was radical at the time but is now common place. And, to raise the bar on degree of difficulty, he did this while traversing three sectors of the industry - corporate pensions, public pensions and university endowments - while being recognized as "best in class" in all three.
As significant as these investment contributions were, of even greater significance, I believe, are his accomplishments in the realm of humanity. Britt has now taken more than 800 young adults under his wing in the Titans program that he developed and made a permanent difference in their lives which continues to this day through his active mentorship. These people now sit in positions of leadership across industries and geographies, grounded in a set of values and capabilities that will make their organizations and our country better. And as they mentor and set an example for others, the impact rises exponentially.
Congratulations Britt on an amazing life and career and thank you for the good that you have carried forth to others.” He cited the Bible, saying, “Well done good and faithful servant,” adding, “On a personal note, thank you for being a good, steadfast and faithful friend.”
Harris has a goal to help shape future investors of the world, and to fortify their endeavors with deeper industry knowledge as well as a strong ethical compass.
For almost two decades, Harris has taught Titans of Investing classes at Texas A&M (17 years) Baylor University (2 years) The University of Texas at Austin (5 years). In fact, he teaches two three-hour night classes every week in addition to his CEO job during the day. And even when he was living and working in Connecticut, he was so dedicated to the ministry of mentoring the future investors that he religiously made weekly trips to Texas to teach the class. From the classes of Titans he’s been “raising” for the past 17 years, he now has a fold of 829 current students and post graduates, with a new group of 40 students to be added this semester.
The Titans class has been also benchmarked by multiple Ivy League schools.
Steve LeBlanc, Chairman and CEO of White Stone Associates, believes Harris, the son of a minister, has a personal mission.
“Britt believes everyone has a Personal Genius that is a gift from God. Britt’s purpose and goal is to help and guide people to find and maximize their personal giftedness. This belief and faith has helped him and helped others achieve great success,” observed LeBlanc.
It was in this spirit that I observed Harris sitting casually with his smiling wife at the center of a living room filled with students. The lights were dim with a golden glow, and laughter came easily. The atmosphere was a soft contrast to the austerity of a rigid classroom. Although Harris had been their executive professor for months, this was a special Titan social evening to aid in their personal development. They had come to discuss the strategy and philosophy behind choosing the right life partner while following a career as an investor.
That evening, after a shared dinner, he told the students his own life story on how he’d met his wife as a child, educated himself and returned to win her heart. With the caring attitude of a mentor, he advised them on how to prioritize the important things in life; explored power couples versus a more laid-back lifestyle; warned them to regularly adhere to an on-time family meal, and advised them on what to say to the boss if s/he asks you to entertain clients in places that challenged their moral compasses (“I’m honored that you would ask me, but can’t do that. However, I’d be happy to take them to a fine restaurant in our city.”)
Harris mentions often the importance of being a prolific reader. For the more formal Titans of Investing class, he recruits famous investors and executives (such as Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and Mary Callahan Erdoes, Asset & Wealth Management Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Chase) to choose the book they’ve found most influential over their lifetimes and mentor a student into writing a brief on it to be shared with the other Titans. The briefs are then housed for the foreseeable future in a database. Today that database library holds hundreds of highly informative Titan Briefs, available to all of his alumni.
Inside the classroom, each student plays a part in the investor group, as they’re broken into roles: some cut their teeth as investors, some brief the class on important market moves, some handle technical logistics. But all have a chance to mingle. In fact, 68 Titans have gone on to get married to other Titans.
And each year, they gather in Houston, Dallas, Menlo Park, New York and London to stay connected and hear from an industry leader. This year, several hundred Titans convened at The Briar Club in Houston, and Bob Prince from Bridgewater took the stage to give the students and graduates a macro economy lesson. (Shortly before the dinner, Harris had met with him in the lobby of the hotel to discuss the economy, and how the C years capped the end of a 40-year era, and how a new paradigm is emerging, where demand is low and inflation is high.)
Throughout the ballroom, when the grand evening began, when chatting with students, their reflections were similar: “This has been my favorite class at the university,” said one. “This class changed my life,” said another. Alumni and their guests spent the evening reconnecting, working on panels and singing.
The students who are chosen to be Titans of Investing are considered to be those with the highest combination of ability and character in each of the two universities. They are selected through an elaborate process that reviews their uniquely impressive resumes, demands multiple essays and runs them through a rigorous competition. Some criteria: they are all likely to be unusually successful early in their career; have the character to use whatever success they achieve to help others and be fully engaged, interesting people who, Harris chuckles, “like to eat.”
Those closest to Harris describe his dedication to the Titans as one of the most important things in his life. When he speaks with them, Harris encourages them to think as individuals, against herd mentality. In a world full of beta thinkers, he’s raising hundreds of alphas who will have the courage to disagree with ‘group think’ and bring something new to the world while aspiring to have successful marriages and fulfilling lives. His motto is to encourage all people to “Speak the Truth with Love,” even within business environments.
When Britt Harris was inaugurated into the Institutional Allocator/ Markets Group Hall of Fame, a man self-described as “Titan 0” also spoke at the ceremony. Jason Kaspar, now CEO of Kaspar Companies, was Harris’ liaison at Texas A&M to help get Titans off the ground, and has been involved with events and lectures in subsequent years. The two met when Kaspar was interning for VIMCO (Verizon Investment Management Corp) in Stamford, Connecticut, the summer of 2004 where Britt was CIO.
“Most interns don’t interact with top executives but he took a special interest and I became really close to his family,” said Kaspar. In the fall of 2005 during Kaspar’s last semester at Texas A&M, Harris had the idea for Titans and Kaspar was involved in meetings of their supporting sponsor, and in talking top students into the very first class. Titans 1 started in January of 2006. Its curriculum included an eclectic mix of teachings on wisdom, historical classics and future trends.
Kaspar said, “Britt has a huge heart for teaching and makes a massive investment towards this endeavor. As an intern (one of two), he took the time (1 hour a week) to meet with both of us and cover a topic, a book, a research paper on how not only the investment world worked but the entire world. What CIO of a massive pension fund (or any size investment firm) does that? He ran Titans when he lived in the Northeast for two years or more before he moved to Texas, flying back and forth to meet with college students. Who does that? Several years ago, he bought a house in College Station (the “Titans house”) giving the lock code to students to come and go as they pleased, use it as a place to study, use it as a place to get away. Who does that? Every year he opens his home in Austin to all current and previous Titans for “Lobsterfest.” Dozens crash under tables, on couches, in rooms and spend a weekend eating and socializing. Who does that?
His heart for equipping the next generation is unparalleled and he gives countless hours of time (extremely valuable and for him costly time) to this pursuit. There are many people in the investing world with knowledge. All the top executives at all the investment firms have plenty of knowledge. However, there is a major distinction of those who also possess wisdom. Of those who have both knowledge and wisdom (an extremely small subset), there has to be only a fraction of individuals who know how to teach others in how to pursue wisdom. Britt is this rare individual. The debt I owe to Britt under his tutelage is not calculable numerically. I hope to have half the impact someone younger than me.”
Next Era Strategy
Now, with the current economy tilting toward low supply, high inflation and reduced globalization, Harris is at work at UTIMCO on macro concepts. Having given the CIO seat to Harvard grad and Harris mentee Rich Hall, Harris is now working as the endowment’s CEO and president, and is busy gathering data from all areas of the financial universe to apply to the portfolio. His vast network brings much of the information to him directly, but his investment team noted how meticulously he continues to interview people to gain nuggets of knowledge unlike any other investor they’ve experienced. As Diamonte from Raytheon observed while on his investment team, his mind is always at work. (He told the Titans they likely will not become the senior leader that he expects unless they are “voracious readers.”)
Harris mentioned a “San Jacinto” strategy that he’s been mulling during an earlier interview, named after the battle Texians had to win after the Alamo for their sovereignty. And, as we followed up by email, one could see his thought process. He’s determined to make a just transition work for both those in the oil industry, and climate activists. (The University of Texas System has 2.1 million oil-rich acres in the Permian Basin.) He’s also questioning the current supply and demand.
Yet Harris is already onto his next idea, and his writing shows how he considers both economic supply and future leadership, and ties them together while forming his new set of concepts.
We thought we’d leave you, our reader, with the following edited excerpt written recently by Harris below, printed with his permission.
“What if the problem is not a lack of demand but rather a lack of supply? Inflation follows and markets maneuver in a very different way. No longer does the economy fail towards deflation but rather to inflation. The only thing that the Fed can do when this occurs is reduce demand to a level that meets the smaller supply available. This is hardly the optimal answer but it is the only answer that the Fed is built to give. The nation will not like the impacts that will create. Jobs will be lost and traditional markets will decline during the worst of times. During the best of times the difference in investment results and inflation will often be smaller by approximately half. The United States markets have been the best in the world for decades. This may finally even the field…
Where are the leaders of tomorrow that we need now? Where is the wisdom, restraint, and courage that we so clearly lack? I offer this as a guide in the direction that is required. Five words and three actions. “Speak the Truth with Love.”
Do you speak? Are you free to speak? Are you overly punished for simply speaking? Do you hold yourself accountable for truth, not simply in your words but what your choice of words causes others to believe, much of which is not the truth? Do you speak with love, respect and curiosity?
Yes, the markets are changing and there is much that investors must be willing to adapt to. That might resolve our current situation.
Only learning to speak the truth with love will heal our nation.”
- Britt Harris
Thank you, Britt Harris, for your contributions to our industry. Seeing your audience at the Hall of Fame ceremony jump to their feet in a standing ovation for you was just a small indication of the many investors you have inspired and the lives you have touched, by speaking your truth with love.
By Christine Giordano