No ivy, no regrets
The money management business is stuffed to the gills with Ivy League talent. Rob Manning, the chief executive of MFS Investment Management, came from a very different place.
Manning is going back there this weekend — to the University of Massachusetts Lowell — to deliver the commencement address, receive an honorary degree (along with his wife and co-alum, Donna), and make a gift of several million dollars to the college.
I was drawn to that story for a couple of reasons. For one, there is a seemingly endless line of people waiting to give millions to Harvard, and a few other already wealthy schools that have produced so much of the local talent in the investment business. UMass Lowell is not the kind of place that often finds its way onto that short list.
It’s impossible to talk with Manning for more than two minutes about his alma mater and not hear his genuine appreciation for an education that got him where he is today, or at least got him started in that direction.
As a kid from Methuen, Manning was the first person in his family to go to college. He graduated in three years with a finance degree and a minor in computer science, an academic background that in 1984 led to two job offers straight out of school. He could go to work for Wang Laboratories Inc., a roaring technology business success story headquartered right in Lowell at the time, or take a job as a junk bond analyst at MFS in Boston.
Most of Manning’s relatives thought he was out of his mind when he chose to become a financial analyst, but of course, MFS turned out to be the better long-term decision. He moved up over time and eight years ago became president of the firm, which manages more than $240 billion and employs 1,800 people around the world.
Manning has been involved with UMass for years as a donor and a trustee. He became the school’s unlikeliest headline maker when he quit as the university’s chairman last December. He left over what was described as his frustration with Governor Deval Patrick’s meddling in the process of selecting a new president for the five-campus system.
The gift from the Mannings will contribute to several projects — including the construction of a new college of management building that will bear their names. But Lowell isn’t the only UMass campus to benefit recently from contributions by business executives.
More than 500 attended an event at last month honoring SBLI chief executive Robert Sheridan and his wife, Jean, raising about $500,000 to support a scholarship in their name for UMass Boston undergraduate students. Sheridan was a UMass trustee for five years and chairs the university’s building authority.
That idea — promoting access to higher education on a local level — is also behind the Mannings’ gift in Lowell. “We’re two alums from a state school that feel blessed that they had an opportunity to get a great education that was affordable and accessible,’’ Manning said.
A handful of states are thinking small when they sell new municipal bond issues.
That includes Massachusetts, which offered a very modest portion of its $490 million bond offering in $1,000 increments and gave individual investors a chance to buy them ahead of big institutions. It was the first time in more than 20 years the state has offered bonds in such small denominations. They’re usually sold in $5,000 chunks.
Small investors got first crack at the $1,000 bonds Friday and yesterday. Treasurer Steve Grossman says the plan was quickly oversubscribed. The state is offering $5 million in small denominations, but investors offered to buy $6.5 million, he said.
That kind of demand tells you something about interest rates today. The $1,000 units, which will mature in 30 months, offer a tax-free rate of 0.94 percent. The securities are zero-coupon bonds that sell at a discount and pay no periodic interest but return their face value to owners when they mature.
Some states are looking into even smaller individual municipal bond offerings. California’s treasurer has backed legislation that would permit minibonds in units as small as $25.
Grossman says he would consider offering smaller Massachusetts bonds, but wants to see how they perform.
Steven Syre is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.