Leenders keeps watch over investments

by Judith Phillips | 10/31/01 6:00am

David Leenders, Dartmouth's associate controller, and Nas, rapper extraordinaire, have one thing in common: money is their bitch. In Leender's case, your money, albeit indirectly, is his bitch.

Leenders is in charge of the College's endowment administration. In this capacity, he oversees monetary contributions made to Dartmouth and tracks related investments.

Leenders path to endowment management has never intersected with the suit-and-tie world of midtown Manhattan even though many of his current responsibilities mirror those tasks performed by high-powered money managers.

Rather, until he arrived in Hanover, his experience was chock-full of the dining hall antics of junior high and high school students in Massachusetts.

After graduating from Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., Leenders went straight to work as the assistant business manager at Massachusetts' Williston Northampton secondary school.

While receiving room and board from the school, he handled tuition receipts, budgets, accounting and endowments, as well as a seventh and eighth grade soccer team, dorm supervision and mandatory meals with the students.

Four years later, Leenders decided that Wednesday night sloppy joes simply didn't cut it, and switched to Dartmouth.

Leenders initial work in the controller's office included general accounting, debt management and tax exemptions, among other things.

Today, as the associate controller, Leenders keeps track of the endowment funds and investments and ensures that those investments are in accord with trustee allocation.

He plays a separate role from those who work in the College's Investment office, who are in charge of annually increasing spending by a certain amount, provided that it stays within 4.25 and 6.5 percent of the average market value of the endowment portfolio over three years.

That spending is directed at various institutional costs, from scholarship funds to arts and sciences improvements to boosting student services.

Leenders also provides College departments and organizations with reports that summarize the status of their share of the endowment.

He said his favorite part of the job is constructing financial models based on hypothetical economic situations.

Seven others work in the controller's office with Leenders, and to each person is designated a specific responsibility.

For instance, one person works with endowment assets, such as stocks, bonds, venture capitals and land investments, while one works with security gifts.

Two people focus on endowment research. They maintain files, some of which date back to the Civil War, ensure that new endowment funds have proper documentation and follow the trustee policies and assure that older funds follow new Trustee policies.

All in all, the Controller's Office tracks a $2.4 billion endowment comprised of 5,000 separate funds.

Leenders said that the current economic slump will not have an immediate effect on the Dartmouth endowment, due to large appreciation built up during the prosperous 1990s.

Yet he noted that "newer funds added in the past year have been getting killed" due to poor investment performance. Some funds have even sunk below their gift values, and must remain untouched until they recover to their market values.

If the economy continues with its downward decline, he predicted that endowment funds might not accumulate appreciation. The amount spent annually would remain level or would decrease.

The College would then need to seek unrestricted gifts, cut programs and perhaps even eventually increase tuition.

Although Leenders said he enjoys his position at Dartmouth, he regrets that it lacks interaction with students.

While he does not dine in Food Court, he does compile statistics for the football and basketball teams, participate occasionally in the Dartmouth Outing Club and even take an occasional fitness class.

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