Hedge fund mogul Paulson gives Harvard record $400m donation

Harvard University, which has educated many of the world's wealthiest investors, is now getting its biggest single gift from one them: a $400 million (S$537 million) donation from Wall Street hedge fund mogul John Paulson. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Harvard University, which has educated many of the world's wealthiest investors, is now getting its biggest single gift from one them: a $400 million (S$537 million) donation from Wall Street hedge fund mogul John Paulson. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BOSTON (Reuters) - Harvard University, which has educated many of the world's wealthiest investors, is now getting its biggest single gift from one them: a $400 million (S$537 million) donation from Wall Street hedge fund mogul John Paulson.

The 59-year old investor, who credits his Harvard Business School education for success at his $19 billion firm Paulson & Co, said he hoped the donation to Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) would help "improve humanity."

"There is nothing more important to improve humanity than education," Paulson said in a statement, adding "SEAS is the next frontier for Harvard, and its expanding campus in Allston promises to become the next major center of innovation."

The donation is the third record-sized gift Harvard has received from alumni since last year, and comes two years into the Ivy League school's five-year campaign to raise $6.5 billion in donations. The campaign has already topped $5 billion.

The school's $36.4 billion endowment, meanwhile, makes it the world's richest university.

In 2014, hedge fund mogul Kenneth Griffin, who began trading securities as a Harvard undergraduate in the 1980s, set a record with a $150 million gift. Only a few months later, the Morningside Foundation, led by Hong Kong venture capitalists Ronnie and Gerald Chan topped that with a $350 million donation to the university's school of public health, where Gerald earned his master's and doctorate degrees.

The engineering and applied sciences school, which counts former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson among its graduates, will be renamed the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

"John Paulson's extraordinary gift will enable the growth and ensure the strength of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard for the benefit of generations to come," Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement.

Paulson's best-known bet against an overheated housing market before the financial crisis netted his fund $15 billion and cemented his personal fortune, now estimated by Forbes to total $11.2 billion.

While his funds' returns have gyrated some in recent years, his flagship Paulson Partners fund has compounded at 13.6 per cent a year over the last two decades, handily beating the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

In 2012, Paulson made his first prominent gift with a $100 million donation to Central Park, located close to his New York City home.