Chief Investment Officer Craig Aase to retire after 33 years

By Kathryn Zager

Tucked away in a small office on Lincoln Avenue, Macalester’s Chief Investment Officer, Craig Aase, will be ending his career only a few hundred feet away from where he arguably got his start. Aase, a 1970 Macalester grad, will be retiring at the end of the year after 33 years of working with the school’s finances.After graduating from graduate school with an MBA, Aase returned to his alma mater in 1977 to work as a manager and controller for Paul Aslanian, the school’s Chief Financial Officer at the time. Aslanian was excited to hire one of his former students for the job.

“We worked extremely well together,” Aase recalled. “Our styles were complementary.”

Eighteen years later, Aase himself became CFO, overseeing all of the school’s investments and budgetary matters.

Traditionally, the CFO concentrated on matters of the school’s budget and income, with the management of investments taking up only a small portion of his time. However, big changes occurred in 1990, when a large gift of Reader’s Digest stock significantly increased the school’s endowment. Macalester began to sell the stock and diversify its investments, and by 2001 Aase realized these investments were too big and too important to be relegated to the sidelines. The next year, he created and took over the position of Macalester’s Chief Investment Officer, overseeing the school’s investments and the health of the endowment.

“It’s one of those jobs that consumes all the time you give it,” Aase said.

When Aase first started at Macalester, the endowment was around $17 million. The Reader’s Digest gift expanded it to over $560 million, which immediately placed the Macalester among the highest endowed small colleges.

As the school began diversifying its options, Aase went from working with 3 or 4 investment managers to the 50 that we have today, dealing in investments ranging from stocks to bonds, overseas investments to real estate. Over the years, he has consistently kept Macalester’s endowment in the top 10% among small colleges.

His job has not been without its challenges, however, and Aase says the recent financial crisis has been a difficult storm to weather. But according to Treasurer David Wheaton, it is Aase’s investment style that has kept Macalester afloat. Wheaton said the fact that Aase’s disciplined investments and the fact that he didn’t push Macalester to be overly aggressive kept its losses at 6%, well above the median.

“The most challenging part was to stay disciplined, to stay fully invested at 45%,” Aase said. “It was hard to do, but the [investment] committee was supportive of it.”

Although Aase is often hidden away in his office, every student is a direct beneficiary of his commitment to his job and dedication to Macalester. Aase’s understanding of the practical implications of his job, Wheaton said, is what sets him apart as a truly remarkable investment officer.

“Craig understands the endowment lives to help the operating budget,” Wheaton said. “He understands and respects the relationship between the two.