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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 30, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 9
Farewell to Bill Snow, Guardian of JHU's Assets for 20 Years

At his recent retirement party, Treasurer Bill Snow shares a laugh with General Counsel Steve Dunham.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 million plunge.

"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 campus.

Says Snow, "We are the custodian of the assets of the university. That is the simple, bottom-line goal of the Treasurer's Office."

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 portfolio.

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 so."

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 university's green.

"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 investments.

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 approaches.

At Snow's retirement party last month, McGill said that Snow had been a true leader and an inspiration to many.

"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 behavior."

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 first.


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