Alice Handy: Mistress of the Universe(ity)

Alice Handy has the Midas touch. She ends her 29-year stint making gobs of money for the University of Virginia on December 1 to start a new business, making gobs of money for clients– and presumably, herself.

When Handy walked into former UVA CEO Ray Hunt's office in 1974 as UVA's first investment officer, the university's endowment was $60 million. She leaves it at $1.8 billion, one of the top five endowments for public universities, and in the top 25 of all U.S. colleges and universities.

She led the university out of its staid stocks and bonds strategy into the wide-open realm of international stocks, real estate, venture capital, and hedge funds.

While most people have no idea what a hedge fund is, Handy likes them because, "We can short stocks and go long." Okay, so most of us have no idea what that means either. That's why she warns, "Hedge funds are not for the naïve investor."

Handy isn't what you'd call risk-adverse. "To be in this business, you have to be willing to take risks," she says. You can tell that's her favorite part.

When everyone else lost his shirt on dot.bombs, Handy made money. Her secret? "We sold them before they crashed."

And at times when the stock market has crashed– 1987 and 2000-2002, say– Handy has been able to sleep at night because she takes a healthy, long-term perspective.

Dressed in capris with bare legs, UVA's treasurer is definitely a short timer. She's already started packing up her fourth-floor corner office with its Blue Ridge views in Fontaine Research Park.

The walls of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company, which Handy heads, are painted green (to inspire thoughts of money?) and blue, and some of the furniture is antique.

So how did the digs of university rainmakers escape the institutional décor typical of research parks? "A woman was in charge," Handy replies. And she offers one other decorating tip: "Never have red in an investment office."

Handy graduated from college with an economics degree in 1970 in the midst of Vietnam War protests. And while she had experience in bonds before coming to UVA, she learned about stocks on the job. "It was really fun for me," she recalls. "I grew with the endowment."

From her Cape Cod-born father, Handy inherited her work ethic and a sense of community involvement. But her competitive nature and tenacity all come from her mom.

Her new business will use her investment acumen to swell the coffers of schools that can't afford to have their own endowment offices. She's going to handle midsize clients– those in the $150 million to $800 million range– and she's already hinting at some "very prestigious" clients.

Her husband came up with the new company's name: Investure. "There's no way it was going to be called Handy Asset Management," she declares.

But with a track record like Handy's, whatever she calls it, it sounds like a pretty sure bet.

Age: 55

What brought you here? My ex

What's worst about living here? Driving

Favorite hangout? My back porch

Most overrated virtue? Loyalty

What would people be surprised to know about you? I was a high school majorette.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? More hair– my daughters' and son's hair!

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Endowment income

What do people find most annoying about you? I mumble.

Whom do you admire? My mentors: John Bloodgood at Travelers, Ray Hunt, and Leonard Sandridge

Favorite book? Comfort Me with Apples, Under the Tuscan Sun– books that combine cooking and travel

What subject causes you to rant? I don't rant.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Everything

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Getting old

What do you drive? Which one? We have about 10 old, paid-for cars with 150,000-plus miles.

What's in your car tape player right now? The Red Tent

 What's your next journey? A new career

What do you regret? That I didn't live in New York when I was younger.

Favorite comfort food? Chocolate

What's always in your refrigerator? Moldy, antique food

Must-see TV? CNBC

Favorite cartoon? I don't read them.

Describe a perfect day. A very sunny, late spring day. Have a leisurely breakfast, go for a run, work in the garden, go shopping, read a book, and go out to dinner and a movie with friends.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Flashdance

Who'd play you in the movie? Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday), but that might be difficult.

Best advice you ever got? Be gracious.

Favorite bumper sticker? Put the bounce back in your life: Eat cranberries.

Alice Handy