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December 4, 2000

Fully vested

By Eric Rangus

isitors entering the downtown Decatur office of Wayne Coon, Emory’s chief investment officer, would swear they entered the abode of a lawyer.

There’s also the wide variety of law firms that already populate One Decatur Town Center. They hide behind intimidating wooden doors embossed with serious-sounding names like: McLarty, Robinson and Van Voorhies, and Weeks and Candler (yes, one of those Candlers).

But make no mistake, it’s not the law that Coon lays down. Instead, it’s tracking Emory’s billion-dollar investments that make Coon’s world go around.

“What a lot of folks wonder is ‘are we long-term players?’” Coon said, quoting one of the most common questions from possible donors. “We have millions of dollars worth of buildings. We are long-term players. An endowment, frankly, is probably the longest term player there is.”

When Coon came to Emory in July 1989, the University’s endowment was less than $1 billion, with the majority of Emory money invested in Coca-Cola stock. Upon his retirement at the end of this year—roughly four weeks from now—the endowment checks in at roughly $5 billion.

Much of that, Coon said, is because of the University’s increased diversity of its investments.

And much of that has taken place under Coon’s watch.

“In fact, we can probably now say we have a full range of investments,” Coon said. “Our position in Coca-Cola stock has been reduced somewhat, but we have increased our investments and allocations in real estate, venture capital, oil and gas, and international investing. I’m leaving quite comfortable that we are positioned very well for the 21st century. Frankly, we are in very good shape as I leave this place.”

Not only are Emory’s coffers almost unrecognizable from when Coon took charge of the University’s investments, but the office itself is quite different. In 1989, it consisted of Coon,one management person and a secretary. Now the office numbers seven positions.

The move to Decatur three and a half years ago was made in part to accommodate growth.

When Coon started, he said, the office was located in the Administration building. From there, it was a move to the Darden building, which is on N Decatur Road. Then he packed up and headed to the then-newly opened Human Resources building. As chairman of the benefits funds committee, Coon said the HR location was a good match.

But in 1997, he and his office got their own place. And the Decatur location is ideal for meeting with potential donors and with investment managers employed by the University, Coon said. It is walking distance from a MARTA line, so visitors have easy access from the airport, restaurants are on every corner and the main Emory campus is a short drive away.

“Why do people give us money?” Coon asked. “What motivates people to give us money? You find by and large that these are absolutely wonderful people who really care about the university.

“But we get gifts from people who’ve never been at Emory. We also get gifts from people who I don’t know if any of us ever knew them.”

And as most everyone on campus knows, much of that endowment money is invested in Coca-Cola stock, and the relationship between Emory and Coca-Cola has always been strong.

Contrary to what some may believe, there is no limit on the amount of money Emory can invest in Coke. Basically, the trustees and the investment office agree on a target amount.

“We try to determine to what level we think it ought to be,” Coon said. “There’s no clear answer. If you knew Coca-Cola was going to grow exponentially, you would just have all Coca-Cola and nothing else. You have to say, ‘What do you think is prudent? What should the total percentage be?’ It’s a tough question.”

Prior to joining the Emory staff, Coon was chief financial officer of Middlesex Mutual Assurance Company, and prior to that, Coon had an extensive career in finance, risk management and investment. He also lived abroad in places such as Hong Kong and Switzerland, and that international experience served him well when he came to Emory.

“In 1990, we started a program to really build our commitment to international investing,” Coon said. According to Coon, about 12 or 13 percent of the endowment is invested internationally; up from 1 or 2 percent prior to his arrival.

Coon will remain as a special consultant to the investment office. Although his specific duties remain to be defined, Coon said he will help the new CIO, Mary Cahill, who comes to the University after 10 years at Xerox in Connecticut, ease into the job.

Coon said he hopes to spend his actual retirement time traveling with his wife Patricia.

They have four children and six grandchildren (ranging in age from 2 to 12) spread out from Georgia to Illinois to Pennsylvania, so varied destinations are not a problem.

He also sits on several boards, including that of the Toigo Foundation, an organization that supports female and minority MBA students. It’s work that he is particularly proud of.

“Students get a financial contribution, they get a mentor assigned to them and also help finding internships,” Coon said. “Atlanta is the only city in the country with two schools in the program: Emory and Clark Atlanta.” Emory is currently in its second year of accepting Toigo fellows.

The foundation’s other 13 partners read like a who’s who of business schools: Penn, Duke, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and Northwestern are just a handful. In addition, Coon will have chances to do more outside consulting, not only with other schools, but private firms and nonprofit organizations as well.

“It’s fun to have people say, ‘Can you give us some help or some insight in what you think we ought to do?’” Coon said. “I find that very rewarding. If something like that comes along, I’m going to do it.”


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