William Snow joined Johns Hopkins in October 1987,
three weeks before Black Monday, the second-largest one-day
percentage decline in stock market history. While the stock
market crash resonated with many, when you are a major
university's new assistant treasurer, you certainly take
notice of the fact that the endowment has just taken a $53
"It's a very vivid memory," says Snow, who is able to
smile about the event now. "I remember driving home that
night of the crash to the tune of 'Brother, Can You Spare a
Dime?' That was my initiation to Johns Hopkins."
Fortunately, in the stock market's case, what goes
down must go up, and better days would follow for the
university and for Snow.
For nearly 20 years, Snow, who retires this week, has
safeguarded the financial and physical assets of the
university — everything from its working capital
funds to a student residence hall on the Homewood
Says Snow, "We are the custodian of the assets of the
university. That is the simple, bottom-line goal of the
It's a role Snow has performed invaluably.
As assistant treasurer, Snow initiated and completed
the first restructuring of endowment investment management
since the early 1970s.
In his position as treasurer, which he assumed in
April 1989, Snow has been responsible for the oversight of
$3 billion in assets, including the endowment, working
capital funds, defined benefit pension plans and charitable
remainder trusts, and for functions such as cash
management, bank relations and the university's property
and casualty insurance programs.
Notably, Snow provided many years of leadership to the
offshore higher education property and general liability
insurance firm Genesis Limited, which is owned and operated
by 16 U.S. colleges. Through the firm, the member
institutions can obtain broader coverages at lower premiums
than what is available in the standard commercial market.
Snow served as its president and vice president, as well as
chair of its finance, capitalization and
long-range-planning committees. During his tenure, he
effected a major change in capital structure that returned
substantial capital to its members and reduced premiums.
Snow also was a member of Johns Hopkins' external
financing team, responsible for managing its debt
Until October 2005, when the university created its
first stand-alone Investment Office, Snow was responsible
for oversight of all university investments, both direct
investments and those handled by outside management firms.
In fact, it was Snow — recognizing the increasing
complexity of endowment management and treasury operations,
both at Johns Hopkins and at universities across the
country — who led the push for the creation of the
chief investment officer position to manage the endowment
and other investments.
"The endowment and its investments were increasingly
monopolizing my time and required the full-time attention
of a dedicated chief investment officer and staff," Snow
says. "Most of our peer schools already had created such a
position, and the time was right for Johns Hopkins to do
For Snow, being Johns Hopkins' treasurer has largely
been about negotiating the best deals, selecting the best
investment managers and safeguarding assets by minimizing
risks. In terms of bank relations, his job has required him
from time to time to find greener pastures for the
"We've found that some banks are better at some things
than others. The old deal was that you had one banking
relationship. Those days are gone," he says. "There are
banks with good collections services, banks with good
lockbox systems, banks that are good at disbursements. We
find the right one to best suit our needs."
Among his accomplishments, Snow, with the investment
committee's approval, increased the university's exposure
to international stocks in 1993 and to domestic stocks in
1994; introduced emerging international stocks to the
portfolio in 1997; launched a program to increase exposure
to private equity and venture capital in 1998; introduced
hedge funds in 2000; and in 2002 introduced timber, oil and
gas, and inflation-protected securities and real estate
Snow says that each move he's recommended was for a
specific purpose, whether to increase diversification,
produce a higher return or hedge inflation.
"You don't want to market time investments, but you do
need to be strategic," he says. "We introduced timber, oil
and gas, and inflation-protected securities and real estate
to our portfolio at the time because we sensed the danger
of increasing inflation. Normally, you pick an asset class
because of its characteristics and what it offers over
time, and then you stick with it."
James McGill, senior vice president for finance and
administration, says that Snow has expertly led the
management of Hopkins' endowment, which has more than
quadrupled during Snow's tenure, into modern investment
At Snow's retirement party last month, McGill said
that Snow had been a true leader and an inspiration to
"The key reason for the quality of Hopkins is the
competency and character of its people," McGill said. "I
realized soon after coming to Hopkins that Bill Snow is a
person who exhibits the best of its qualities. He has
unimpeachable integrity, treats people fairly, develops
younger talent and emphasizes quality in the products and
actions of his office — all attributes for the rest
of us to emulate. It is in this regard that we will miss
you most. You truly have been a beacon for Hopkins
Snow earned his doctorate in economics from George
Washington University, from which he had graduated with a
degree in international relations. He also attended Harvard
University's Institute for Educational Management, a
program for senior university administrators. At Johns
Hopkins, he has taught economics in the School of
Professional Studies in Business and Education.
Before joining Johns Hopkins, Snow spent 16 years at
the Communications Satellite Corp., known as Comsat, where
he worked his way up from a senior analyst position to the
corporation's manager of investments and insurance.
Upon his retirement, he says, he will devote more time
to his passion, painting. Snow, who paints primarily
landscapes in oil and watercolors, has had several one-man
shows, one in Baltimore and two near his home in Delaware.
He is currently targeting 2008 for his next show.
Snow says he might also go back into teaching and do
some consulting work, but for now, his painting will come