By PATIENCE HAGGIN
One of the most influential individuals involved in choosing the next University president, Katie Hall ’80, the chair of the board of trustees and the chair of the presidential search committee, is the chief executive officer of an asset management company that is worth more than the University’s endowment.
Her company, San Francisco-based Hall Capital Partners, has assets under management of around $22 billion. Meanwhile, Hall sits at the head of the board of a university which manages an additional $17 billion.
Hall, who graduated cum laude in the economics department, is potentially the single most important person in the impending presidential selection, which is expected to come to a close this spring. She declined to comment on the search for this article.
A manager of family assets and foundation endowments, she has never managed University funds through Hall Capital, sources said, although she was involved with the Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO) from 1998 to 2011, the last three years as chairwoman.
She became a trustee in 2002 and the chair of the board of trustees in 2011.
According to over a dozen interviews with friends, professors and colleagues, Hall was a fun and social student at the University. A member of the Cap & Gown Club, she most recently donated a taproom together with her long-time friend Bill Powers ’79. In addition, she has six piercings in each ear, as well as several tattoos, her friends said. She was a supporter of the Obama campaign, donor records show, and she drives a gray Honda hybrid, according to the San Franciso Business Times.
As a student, both studious and social
Hall, who is one of eight children, grew up in Rye, N.Y. and entered the University as a prospective electrical engineer in 1976. There, she swung between disciplines. After deciding that engineering wasn’t for her, she said she considered studying English but ultimately settled on the math track within the economics department because she loved problem-solving.
At the University, Hall was a part of a tight-knit circle of friends whose core members lived together in the same draw group for three years. In her senior year, she lived in a draw group of eight that had a cluster of rooms in Dod Hall.
“She could honestly go from being very serious and insightful about something to being very silly,” Lisa Townsend Raber ’80, one of Hall’s former roommates and close college friends, said.
The two met only a few weeks into their freshman year while they were both studying on the C floor of Firestone Library. According to Townsend Raber, they were both “hiding away” from the distractions of socializing because they were both “very, very social people.” They became friends, working for Business Today, attending football games and Cap parties together, as well as living together for three years.
“[She] used to like to walk home in her socks, even if it was wet out,” Kathy Button Bell ’80, another of Hall’s roommates explained. Button Bell described Hall as a fun, sociable roommate who was “game for anything, fearless.”
Hall joined Cap and eventually became the club’s treasurer. She has continued to be involved with Cap, most recently funding their new and expanded taproom together with Powers as part of a multi-year capital campaign that has renovated and expanded the clubhouse.
Described as a “generous donor” by the current chairman of the Cap Graduate Board, Tom Fleming ’69, Hall returned to campus the weekend of the bonfire to attend the celebration of the end of the club’s fundraising campaign.
As a freshman, Hall also became involved with the publication Business Today, first joining the advertising team. Though she initially joined the organization as a way to earn money, she became increasingly involved in the magazine’s editorial and management sides in later years. At the time, she did not see the publication as a preparation for a career in business.
Her senior thesis, titled, “Future Markets: a Study of Treasury Bill Futures,” was advised by economics professor emeritus Richard Quandt. He described Hall as a “terrific student” in the mathematical track of his department.
In the acknowledgements page of her thesis, she thanked her roommates for their support.
From Morgan Stanley to her own “as flat as possible” firm
After graduating, Hall took a job in mergers and acquisitions with Morgan Stanley in New York. She also helped recruit Princeton students for the company, according to ads published in The Daily Princetonian in the early 1980s.
She then earned an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business, graduating in 1984, according to her company biography. She returned to Morgan Stanley for two years working in the risk arbitrage and mergers and acquisitions departments before becoming a partner at the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, then at Laurel Arbitrage Partners. Hall then served as chairman of the board, co-chief executive officer and chief investment officer of Offit Hall Capital Management.
While not intending to found her own company, Hall said that at one point she began managing the assets of a single family. When other families also became interested in her services, Hall eventually turned her asset management services into her own business in 1994.
“She really got involved with them on their side of the table, trying to help them work through a number of issues surrounding their great wealth,” Rick Grand-Jean, a senior adviser at Hall Capital, said. He emphasized how closely Hall worked with her clients, even acting as their “out-sourced [Chief Investment Officer].”
Her clients now include a large number of wealthy families, along with the endowments of educational institutions and foundations. Hall Capital, which today has 135 employees, is two-thirds employee-owned and one-third owned by individuals, Grand-Jean said.
Despite the focus on endowments, sources within the firm said Hall Capital has never managed the money of an organization that Hall did philanthropic work for, such as the University.
“We’ve really tried to have an organization that is as flat as possible,” Hall said. “It can’t be completely flat. But it is rooted in the viewpoint that every job is an important job and deserves respect.”
Hall explained that her firm works to promote the feeling of equality among its employees as a reaction against the harsh culture of the financial services business in general.
John Fisher ’83, a member of the board of Hall Capital Partners and the president of investment and management office Pisces, Inc., described Hall as someone able to understand and appreciate creative concerns.
He gave the example of a large investment that Hall Capital Partners recently made in an equestrian apparel company called Aries. Hall originally became attracted to the firm because she appreciated the product and the creativity of the firm’s executives, he said.
“You’re looking at boots or clothing, and you either love or you don’t. It is a very personal, creatively driven business,” Fisher explained. “Fundamentally, she looked at the business and said, ‘I like this business. I like the people.’ Even before she looked at the numbers, she had reached a conclusion about it being a high-quality business and a high-quality product.”
Hall, a well-respected figure in the finance industry, was profiled in Top Hedge Fund Investors: Stories, Strategies, and Advice, a 2010 book about leaders in the hedge fund industry. Cathleen Rittereiser, who co-authored the book and wrote a profile of Hall, called her “one of the most well-known, well-regarded pioneering women in the hedge fund industry.”
A member of the board
Hall joined the University’s Board of Trustees in 2002 and became its chair in 2011.
According to former trustee and PRINCO head, Steve Oxman ’67, they were both “tapped” the same year by a trustee development committee that seeks out alumni with the appropriate experience to make them potential trustee candidates.
This committee initially nominates between 10 and 15 candidates and then narrows the selection down to the number of new trustees needed, Oxman said. The final nominees are voted on by the full board.
Oxman described the role of board as one of “noses in, fingers out” where trustees have to avoid encroaching on the administration’s role or overstepping their authority.
“One important factor is truly understanding the difference between governance on one hand and management on the other,” Oxman said. He added that Hall really understands this principle.
Hall was chairwoman of PRINCO at the time of the 2008 recession.
“It was a very, very stressful time, and Katie deserves a lot of credit for just keeping all of us on the PRINCO board kind of focused on the task and dealing with one step at a time,” PRINCO president Andrew Golden said.
Since becoming chair of the board, Hall has estimated that the University takes up about 20 to 25 percent of her time and even more over the past few months due to the presidential search.
As chair of the board, she emphasized the importance of maintaining the University’s commitment to its tradition of liberal arts education, particularly at a time when its tradition is under criticism in the political arena.
“I think that we can and should provide the leadership to continue to model both the success and importance of that kind of education,” Hall said. “Education is one of the great sources of social mobility in our country.” She cited the University’s financial aid resources and its ongoing efforts to strengthen its commitment to diversity as things that make her “excited and proud” to serve the University, although research funding remains a challenge.
In addition, Hall said she saw this year’s new multi-club Bicker practice as a major improvement to the clubs’ selection processes.
“I was really proud that Cap was one of the clubs that embraced that early on,” Hall said.
Recruiting the new president
Hall declined to comment on the ongoing search process, saying only that her team is working to choose the best leader for the University. The committee is expected to announce their pick in the next coming weeks, at some point this spring.
Friends described Hall’s recruiting skills.
“She knows what Princeton needs,” Quandt, the thesis adviser, said, noting that Hall is familiar with the academic needs of the faculty. “She knows what the institution needs.”
Fleming recalled observing Hall’s ability to take input at a forum where 60 to 70 alumni discussed the presidential search this past fall.
“Everybody realized that we weren’t going to find a clone for Tilghman, but there sort of was a lot of positive comments about President Tilghman,” Fleming said of the alumni meeting. He said Hall showed her characteristic talent for listening to and accepting feedback.
“She definitely listened,” he added. “Her response, while being non-committal, was kind of right on the money.”
Fisher echoed this ability of Hall’s to consider input from many different sources in the process of making a decision, often seeking out views that contradict her own or playing devil’s advocate herself.
Even more importantly, he said, she is unafraid to voice her opinions.
“She’s not going to bullshit me,” Fisher said. “I always know that when I’m with Katie, I’m going to hear it straight.”
Hall praised Tilghman for her strategic thinking and communication skills, as well as her “understanding and empathy both for and of many different groups within the University.”
A CEO with piercings and tattoos
Hall has four children with her husband of 25 years. Her wedding featured a battle of the bands competition, her former roommate Bell, who also described her as the “ultimate hostess,” said.
“I think she’s very comfortable in her own skin,” fellow Cap member Shelley deButts ’80. “She inspired me to get a tattoo.”
Hall has a number of tattoos and piercings but declined to offer any details about them.
“She does have a lot of piercings in her ear,” deButts explained. “But she also has a lot of tattoos, which she started to get with a friend of hers when she turned 40.”
In her spare time, Hall is an avid reader of fiction, with self-described tastes “from Marquez to Game of Thrones.” She said she recently enjoyed the science-fiction novel Replay by Ken Grimwood, which was recommended to her by Miguel Centeno, a sociology professor who serves with her on the presidential search committee.
During her time as an undergraduate, Hall was acquainted with and shared mutual friends with Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, current Wilson School professor and author of the popular Atlantic piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”
“I think one of the great things that we all face as we go forward in our careers, in our families, in our trajectories, is choosing what we want to do,” Hall said in response to Slaughter’s article. “I personally think that every kind of different path, of which there are many good paths, involves trade-offs.”
“I think life is a series of choices,” she added.