Harvard Spins Off Natural Resources Team, to Remain Partner

Harvard University’s endowment spun off its natural resources team, creating an independent entity that will manage some of the school’s agriculture and food production investments.

An investment team led by Harvard Management Co.’s head of natural resources, Colin Butterfield, launched Solum Partners, the new firm said Thursday in a statement. Harvard will be a limited partner.

“Colin and his team have proven themselves to be extremely skilled investors and valuable members of HMC,” N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, the endowment’s chief executive officer, said in a separate letter to his staff.

Harvard “will continue to work closely with Colin and his team as both investors in their new firm, as well as advisers to us on the management and sale of remaining NR legacy assets,” he said.

Harvard wrote down the value of its natural resources portfolio by more than $1 billion after Narvekar took over as CEO in 2016 and sold off a number of assets, including timberland in South America. The writedowns were part of a larger overhaul of Harvard Management that included cutting staff, selling some private equity and real estate funds, and downsizing trading operations.

Harvard was once seen as a leader among endowments in investing in timberland and farms around the world. But its natural resource portfolio came under increasing scrutiny in recent years from environmental activists as well as authorities in countries such as Brazil who scrutinized the land titles of some endowment-controlled farms.

Butterfield will serve as CEO of Solum, managing a team of 25.

“Our team sees an opportunity to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns by helping agricultural producers who need a true partner,” Butterfield said in a statement.

Solum also said Wednesday that it acquired some investments that his group managed or made while at Harvard. These include avocado, olive oil, apple and soybean production assets as well as stakes in Westfalia, a global avocado distribution company, and California Olive Ranch, a U.S. extra virgin olive oil company.

Those investments were backed by affiliates of Harvard Management and American International Group Inc., Solum said.

Dow Jones earlier reported the news.

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