Person

Alexander Friedman

Occupation:

Financial Executive

Known For:

Former CFO of the Gates Foundation

Co-Founder, Jackson Hole Economics

Nationality:

American

Alexander “Alex” Friedman is an American finance executive who formerly worked in the Clinton administration. For four years, Friedman also worked as chief financial officer of the left-of-center Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. [1]

After leaving the Foundation, Friedman became CEO of GAM, a Swiss asset management company. After being pushed out of GAM following a number of management decisions which left GAM on the brink of a hostile takeover, Friedman founded Jackson Hole Economics, a left-of-center think tank.[2]

Early Life and Career

Alexander Friedman was raised in New York City. Friedman graduated from Princeton University in 1993 before attending Columbia University, where he earned both his law degree and his master’s degree in business administration.[3]

Following his graduation from Columbia University Law School, Friedman successfully applied for a White House fellowship with the Clinton administration. During his fellowship, Friedman worked primarily with the secretary of defense and Joint chiefs of staff on national security policy.[4]

After his fellowship ended, Friedman shifted into finance. Early in his career, Friedman worked primarily with start-up companies, taking leadership roles with Medarex and the OpenVenture Group, the former of which was sold to Bristol Myers Squibb. [5]

Friedman was then hired as an investment banker with Lazard, working as co-head of Lazar’s Financial Sponsor Group for five years. [6]

Gates Foundation

In 2006, Friedman left Lazar after being appointed chief financial officer of the left-of-center Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private philanthropic foundation in the world. Friedman claimed that he had been hired to scale up operations at the Gates Foundation, which he did by courting wealthy donors. Shortly after Friedman joined the Gates Foundation, Democratic donor and billionaire investor Warren Buffett pledged the bulk of his $30 billion fortune to the nonprofit. [7]

During the 2008 recession, Friedman guided the Gates Foundation’s expansion into “impact investing,” a means of charity that also provides financial return. The strategy has been criticized by some as appearing to profit off of charitable investment, which Friedman acknowledged during an interview with the left-of-center Milken Institute.[8]

Friedman stepped down as CFO of the Gates Foundation in February 2010.[9]

Return to Private Finance

In 2011, multinational investment bank UBS hired Friedman to create its  “chief investment office” to standardize and organize the bank’s management of nearly $2 trillion worth of assets. In 2014, Friedman left UBS to join GAM Investments, a large Swiss asset management group. [10]

During his time at GAM, Friedman came under fire for his management of the firm. In late 2018, Friedman suspended star portfolio manager Tim Haywood and shut down his fund after Haywood broke internal protocols, like using a personal email for work.[11] The move by Friedman shook investor confidence, caused some to withdraw their assets from GAM, and even forced the firm to consider a hostile takeover. In November of that year, Friedman left GAM after what the Financial Times called a “rebellion” over his $4.3 million salary.[12] [13]

Jackson Hole Economics

In 2019, Friedman co-founded Jackson Hole Economics, a left-of-center think tank that promotes left-leaning economic policy. The firm describes itself as an “action tank,” embracing the idea that the optimism of free-market economics has “evaporated for all but the top 1%.” The think tank explicitly rejects free market ideals and requires that “growth and opportunity be enjoyed, in some form, by all members of society,” namely through wealth redistribution.[14]

Jackson Hole Economics functions more as a blog and news organization than a think tank, frequently publishing opinion pieces on economic issues rather than performing research. Recent Jackson Hole Economics articles have blamed “corporate greed” on prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic, advocated for a wealth tax to support environmentalist energy programs, and supported the widespread wealth redistribution and expanded entitlement programs proposed by the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan.[15] [16] [17]

Aside from publishing on the Jackson Hole Economics blog, Friedman occasionally publishes his perspective on current events in national publications. Friedman has supported left-of-center ideals, including claiming that the  “American Dream is dead.” Friedman has argued that the country must implement tuition-free community college, nationalize student loans, and create government-funded childcare services to improve society. [18]

References

  1. “Alex Friedman, CFO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Innovations in Philanthropy.” Milken Institute, November 16, 2009. https://milkeninstitute.org/videos/alex-friedman-cfo-bill-melinda-gates-foundation-innovations-philanthropy. ^
  2. Friedman, Alex. “Alex Friedman: Distinguished Investment Management Industry Executive.” Medium. Medium, December 13, 2019. https://medium.com/@AlexSFriedman/alex-friedman-distinguished-investment-management-industry-executive-ebdd20cc47db. ^
  3. Lopresti, Daniel. “Committee to Nominate Alumni Trustees.” Princeton University Alumni Association . Accessed December 20, 2019. https://alumni.princeton.edu/sites/alumni/files/archive/alumni_roxen/volunteer/committees/ctnat/trustee/2011AlumniTrusteeElection.pdf. ^
  4. “Friedman, Alexander S.” The Wall Street Transcript, September 23, 2003. https://www.twst.com/bio/alexander-s-friedman/. ^
  5. “Friedman, Alexander S.” The Wall Street Transcript, September 23, 2003. https://www.twst.com/bio/alexander-s-friedman/. ^
  6. Wilkinson, Tara Loader. “Meet the New UBS Wealth Investment Chief.” Meet the new UBS wealth investment chief. Financial News, February 28, 2011. https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/alexander-friedman-ubs-wealth-20110228. ^
  7. Heim, Kristi. “Gates Foundation CFO Announces Resignation.” The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company, October 12, 2009. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/gates-foundation-cfo-announces-resignation/. ^
  8. “Alex Friedman, CFO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Innovations in Philanthropy.” Milken Institute, November 16, 2009. https://milkeninstitute.org/videos/alex-friedman-cfo-bill-melinda-gates-foundation-innovations-philanthropy. ^
  9. Shotter, James. “UBS Investment Chief Poised to Quit Company.” Subscribe to read | Financial Times. Financial Times, June 2, 2014. https://www.ft.com/content/d92c90a4-ea5e-11e3-afb3-00144feabdc0. ; “GAM Holding AG Appoints New Group Chief Executive Officer.” Gam.com, September 2, 2014. https://www.gam.com/en/news-articles/press-releases/corporate/gam-holding-ag-appoints-new-group-chief-executive-officer. ^
  10. Shotter, James. “UBS Investment Chief Poised to Quit Company.” Subscribe to read | Financial Times. Financial Times, June 2, 2014. https://www.ft.com/content/d92c90a4-ea5e-11e3-afb3-00144feabdc0. ; “GAM Holding AG Appoints New Group Chief Executive Officer.” Gam.com, September 2, 2014. https://www.gam.com/en/news-articles/press-releases/corporate/gam-holding-ag-appoints-new-group-chief-executive-officer. ^
  11. Bart, Katharina. “Whistleblower Sparked GAM Probe.” finews.com, September 25, 2018. https://www.finews.com/news/english-news/33347-gam-whistleblower-tim-haywood-sanjeev-gupta-arbf. ^
  12. “GAM CEO Alex Friedman Exits.” finews.com, November 6, 2018. https://www.finews.com/news/english-news/33967-gam-alex-friedman-ceo-departure-tim-haywood-suspension-merger-candidate. ^
  13. Atkins, Ralph. “GAM Chief Alexander Friedman Steps down after Criticism.” Subscribe to read | Financial Times. Financial Times, November 6, 2018. https://www.ft.com/content/c99913a4-e18c-11e8-a6e5-792428919cee. ^
  14. Friedman, Alex. “Our Mission & Beliefs.” Jackson Hole Economics, May 20, 2021. https://jheconomics.com/our-mission-and-beliefs/. ^
  15. Stiglitz, Joseph E., and Lori Wallach. “Will Corporate Greed Prolong the Pandemic?” Jackson Hole Economics, May 20, 2021. https://jheconomics.com/will-corporate-greed-prolong-the-pandemic/. ^
  16. Cliffe, Mark. “Making Small Cool: A Case For Progressive Green Taxes.” Jackson Hole Economics, April 26, 2021. https://jheconomics.com/making-small-cool-a-case-for-progressive-green-taxes/. ^
  17. Espinosa, María Fernanda. “Build Back Equal.” Jackson Hole Economics, March 11, 2021. https://jheconomics.com/build-back-equal/. ^
  18. Friedman, Alexander. “The American Dream 2.0.” East African Business Week. Project Syndicate, August 16, 2019. https://www.busiweek.com/the-american-dream-2-0/. ^

Connected Organizations

  1. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Non-profit)
    Former Chief Financial Officer
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