In March, the College named Kelsey Deshler as new Chief Investment Officer, a position which had been vacant since Jason Matz left last year after twelve years. Previously head of Manager Research at BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, Deshler returns to Minnesota to manage Carleton’s endowment, and hopes to encourage outreach between the investment office and students.
“One area that really attracted me to Carleton is the connectivity that the investment office can have with the school, not just the faculty members and staff, but also with the students. Eventually I would love to come up with different ways to educate students on the endowment,” she said. Deshler emphasized the importance of the endowment, saying “the endowment is a pretty key piece of the overall funding source for the college.”
“The endowment goes to support financial aid, and a good portion of the school’s operation budget. So paying people, keeping the lights on, making sure that tuition doesn’t go up too much, helping to support new endeavors, whether its a new department or building. There are certain campaigns and donations that support these things individually, but the endowment is really the cornerstone there to provide the backbone and support to the college’s overall mission,” she said. According to Deshler, Carleton’s endowment has a typical real return of five to six percent.
“I would say the endowment is doing well. We’ve definitely met our objective over the years. Markets and portfolios and risk can be volatile, not every month are we going to generate a positive return, but the portfolio is built to be very defensive and to do well when markets go down or when markets go sideways, or when markets go up a lot,” she said.
Regarding the College’s portfolio and student advocacy for divestment, Deshler stated that “the Board of Trustees, who I report to, are the ones who ultimately set the investment policy.” The Investment Policy Statement, or IPS, provides guidelines to Deshler on what the college and cannot invest in, and is “fairly detailed,” according to Deshler. The IPS is “my guiding piece as I navigate this. The [investment] committee is there also as my partner, and is a group of extremely accomplished people are are running investment firms across the country, and they are there to help with asset allocation and to make sure that there is proper oversight on the activities of the invent office” she said.
Deshler added that “But as it relates to ESG [environmental, social and governance investing strategies] and specifically the fossil fuels or the environmental factors, I’m really taking guidance from the Board of Trustees about how to structure portfolio around those types of investments.” “If it were up to me, what would I do?” Deshler added, “well my philosophy has been, the more flexibility we have, the better we can maximize returns, and that’s really anchored our modern portfolio theory.”
Deshler is a Minnesota native, and graduated from the University of Minnesota, and later the New York University Stern School of Business, with a concentration in finance. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Deshler worked primarily in the private sector, for investment firms. “After college, I took a risk and move to the West Coast and joined an investment consultant firm, called CTC, and I was junior analyst covering hedge funds. This was in 2005, when people didn’t know a lot about hedge funds.”
Deshler later moved to New York City to accept a position to manage the General Motors pension, and after receiving her Master’s Degree at NYU, worked as an asset manager in the private sector. In 2016, Deshler joined BlackRock.“I really liked the philosophy at BlackRock, and its focus on clients, endowment and foundations in particular, and that’s where I got more experience working with endowment and foundation clients and their portfolios… it was a really great experience learning about all asset classes,” she said.“When I heard about the Carleton job I was like ‘wow this is fantastic,’ because I love working with these clients and it would be an amazing experience working directly with an endowment. It’s been a dream of mine, over the years,” Deshler said.
Deshler said she was excited to return to Minnesota, where she has family and plans to live near Minneapolis and the investment office downtown location. “I haven’t lived [in Minnesota] for thirteen or fourteen years. I have a son who is one, and I’ve increasingly been going back because of my baby, and my parents have been coming here. We were daydreaming about moving to Minnesota, so we’re really excited now,” she said. “I’m moving home, so it’s like the stars aligned. I feel like this is home for a very long time.”