The Financialization of the American Elite

Sam Long:

On October 1, 2018, the newly christened Klarman Hall opened to much acclaim on the campus of Harvard Business School. The stunning $120 million building houses a conference center as well as a gleaming auditorium built around a 32-million-pixel, 1,250-square-foot video wall and a state-of-the-art, modular design that seats up to a thousand attendees.1 To mark the opening, the school held a daylong series of speeches and lectures, headlined by the building’s namesake and one of the school’s wealthiest living gradu­ates, billion­aire investor Seth Klarman.

Sixty-two-year-old Klarman leads Baupost Group, a hedge fund headquartered high above historic Boston Common. The New York Times has called Klarman “the most successful and influential in­vestor you have probably never heard of,” while the Economist nick­named him the “Oracle of Boston,” a comparison to Warren Buffet.2 Like Buffet, Klarman has a cultlike following within so-called value investing circles. An out-of-print book that he wrote early in his career, Margin of Safety, now commands over $1,500 for a paperback copy on Amazon.3

Although the building has certainly enhanced his reputation on campus, the school has long held up Klarman as a role model for its students. Klarman launched Baupost with several million dollars of his professors’ money immediately after receiving his MBA from Harvard in 1982, brashly bypassing the apprenticeship model that is common for aspiring investors.4 When faculty members introduce Klarman during classroom visits, they emphasize Baupost’s early days as a start-up, and Klarman is presented both as a bold entrepreneur and a stock-picking wizard with a near-superhuman ability to make money.