The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Clay serves as the College’s very own Mr. Monopoly

Who is David Clay? To some, he might be the local Iowan who takes long walks in the woods with his pet Labrador and enjoys Pagliai’s pizza. But to others, he’s the Sugar Daddy of Grinnell—the College’s very own Mr. Monopoly, sans black hat and cane. His work affects campus life on a daily basis and he plays a vital role in the College’s ability to function successfully. David Clay is none other than the Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer of Grinnell College, a position that he has held for the past twenty years.

What does Clay’s job entail? Although Clay began his career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he has been employed by Grinnell College for the past 25 years and has undertaken a wide range of fiscal responsibilities.

“My biggest responsibility is to manage the college’s investment assets,” Clay said. “Most significantly of those being the endowment, which is what most people think of when they think of investments, and other reserves and operating fund.”

Clay manages the protection of Grinnell College’s assets, oversees the allocation of investments and ultimately appropriates these funds to various needs. In collaboration with the College’s investment committee on the Board of Trustees, Clay has developed a strategy and ethos to managing Grinnell’s finances—in particular the College’s endowment—in order to best achieve the ultimate goal.

“The ultimate goal was to grow resources on a real basis,” Clay said. “Grow them enough to cover what we’re going to spend and cover an inflation, to grow them on a real basis so that twenty years from today, the endowment will still cover the same amount that it does today.”

This attitude reflects Clay’s clear commitment to the College and his dedication to incorporating Grinnell’s morals and priorities into the management of their fiscal affairs.

Grinnell College stands out as a unique institution for a number of reasons, ranging from its liberal policy of self-governance to its ‘No Limits’ ideology. As explained by Clay, Grinnell’s fiscal practices are yet another sphere where this is reflected on a daily basis.

“Grinnell is particularly unique in that most of our endowment is driven by investment results, and only modestly by new gifts to the endowment,” Clay said. “In round numbers, about 30 percent of Grinnell’s endowment is from gifts or the growth of gifts, whereas 70 percent is from investments. That is essentially the exact opposite of most well endowed colleges.”

This endowment, and its stable growth and reliability, is not only a characteristic trait of the College’s finances but is also a significant reason why the College was able to retain it’s fiscal buoyancy even in the face of the recent economic crisis. Clay attributes this largely to the College’s spending policy.

“[The policy] put some buffers in place—some reserve funds—some allocations that protected us when the world got really tough…it was difficult, but…we didn’t have to send any employees home because of finances, which many of our peers unfortunately did,” Clay said. “And we’re probably critiqued for this, but we were more cautious in good times than some, so it allowed us to be more stable in the bad times.”

This cautionary attitude is exactly what has allowed Grinnell to maintain its financial security over the years, regardless of the national economic climate.

“While there are certainly things that if we had chances to rethink, we wouldn’t do, I’d say that—for the most part—we didn’t make meaningful mistakes that were permanent losses of capital or dollars,” Clay said.

No longer the College that we were in the 1940’s, with an endowment of approximately 30 million dollars, it is vital that we have someone like David Clay to ensure that we will continue to grow and expand over years to come.

“I have always been honored to be the treasurer of Grinnell, it means a lot to me,” Clay said. “I’d say going through the last couple of years, it means even more to me what that responsibility is, and working hard to meet those responsibilities.”

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