As he has done for decades, once a week David F. Swensen convenes his staff — including his cadre of apprentices — for a morning-long meeting among the Gothic revival flourishes and crenelations of the Yale University campus to debate investment ideas.

Mr. Swensen, 62, runs the school’s $25.4 billion endowment, one of the largest in the country. Usually he is joined by his intellectual sparring partner, Dean Takahashi, his senior director. It amounts to an internship in the world of managing a university’s billions — and the young analysts have a front-row seat. “It was like watching a 70-year-old married couple go at it in full force,” recalled Andrew Golden, who was one of those Swensen acolytes in the 1980s.

But forget what you think about internships and fetching doughnuts for the bosses. The meetings are supposed to be a crucible of ideas, and the analysts — some of whom stay in the positions for years — recalled bringing their own proposals in the early days, and having to defend them or face the music. “It could be jarring to have your own view shredded by them,” Mr. Golden said.

As for Mr. Swensen, it’s an environment that brings together two things he loves: thinking about investments and teaching other people how to think about them. “They are twin passions of mine,” he said during a recent interview in his sun-filled corner office at the endowment’s headquarters on Yale’s New Haven campus. Certainly no school has incubated as many endowment managers as Yale.

Mr. Swensen is legendary in the rarefied world of endowment management. He has pioneered an investment strategy that expanded Yale’s portfolio from a plain-vanilla mix of stocks and bonds to substantial holdings in real estate, private equity and venture capital, along with other alternatives. Until then, the typical endowment was far more conservative. And through his graduates, his investment style has spread to the nation’s prominent schools and foundations. Today, Mr. Swensen and former protégés oversee nearly $100 billion in endowment money for schools including M.I.T., Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Bowdoin, Wesleyan and Princeton (which Mr. Golden manages). Other alumni are running the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman

Foundation and working at the YMCA Retirement Fund and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In an era when it is routine for money managers to elbow their way into the public consciousness — populating the news channels, burnishing their images — Mr. Swensen has largely stayed away from the spotlight, aside from writing a book, “Pioneering Portfolio Management.” Yet he is one of the most influential people in a generation that has seen endowments grow tremendously in importance at premier institutions. Yale’s endowment now provides 33 percent of the school’s budget, compared with 10 percent in 1985.

In a series of extended interviews, he and more than a half-dozen of his investment-office veterans discussed his management style — where they agree and disagree. Along the way Mr. Swanson gave his views on things as diverse as the pharmaceutical company Valeant — which “didn’t even have the fig leaf of R.&D. expenditures,” he said, to justify increasing its drug prices dramatically — to his toughest year, fiscal 2009, when his fund plummeted 24.6 percent during the economic meltdown.

In the aftermath, he got hurt in a particularly bad real estate investment. “This is one of my biggest mistakes in the past 30 years,” Mr. Swensen said. Over the decades, though, the Yale endowment has built one of the strongest records among the nation’s largest endowments. Most recently, in the fiscal year ended June 30 — a dismal one for most schools, with the average endowment declining 2.7 percent, according to Cambridge Associates, which tracks performance — Yale’s rose 3.4 percent.

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