John B. Neff, Emeritus Trustee

caption: John NeffJohn B. Neff (Hon’84), emeritus trustee who grew the University of Pennsylvania’s endowment from $200 million to $3 billion, died June 4 after an illness. He was 87.

Mr. Neff was born in Ohio. He was an aviation electronics technician in the US Navy during the Korean War, then earned a BBA in industrial marketing from the University of Toledo (the finance department now bears his name) under the GI Bill, graduating in 1955 summa cum laude. He then attended Case Western Reserve University in the evenings, earning his  MBA in banking and finance in 1958, while working as a securities analyst for the National City Bank of Cleveland.

He became senior vice president and managing partner of Wellington Management Company and was a member of its Executive Committee. He built a reputation for value investing and served as the legendary portfolio manager of the Vanguard Group’s Windsor Fund, which under his stewardship outperformed the market 21 out of 31 years. He was a director of Crown Holdings Inc., Chrysler Corporation, General Accident Insurance, Greenwich Associates, Amkor Technology, and Invemed Catalyst Fund. He wrote John Neff on Investing, was a member and former Trustee of the Chartered Financial Analysts Federation, and a member and past President of Financial Analysts of Philadelphia.

Mr. Neff joined Penn’s Board of Trustees in 1980, when he became chair of the Investment Board. At this time, when Penn’s endowment performance ranked among the lowest in the country, then-President Martin Meyerson and Board Chair Paul Miller asked Mr. Neff to manage it. Under his 18-year leadership, the endowment outperformed the market by a wide margin. At his tenure’s end, it had grown from $200 million to $3 billion. He did this for no more than a University parking permit.

Mr. Neff also served on the Executive and Audit & Compliance committees. He was a popular lecturer at Wharton and served on the Advisory Board of Wharton’s Weiss Center for International Financial Research. He was a generous supporter of the Penn Museum and established the John and Lillian Neff Endowed Scholarship. In recognition of his tremendous service, the University established the John B. Neff Endowed Professorship at Wharton in his honor. 

Mr. Neff was a leading benefactor of the Philadelphia Scholars Fund, for which he received Philadelphia Education Fund’s inaugural Giving Forward Award. He was a Trustee of Case Western Reserve, as well as a Governor of the Research Foundation of the Association for Investment Management and Research. His honors included an honorary degree from Penn in 1984 and an honorary doctor of commercial science from the University of Toledo. He received the Association for Investment Management and Research’s Award for Professional Excellence and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western. He was chosen by Fortune and 300 of his peers as one of 10 outstanding investors of the 20th century.

He is survived by his children, Lisa Neff-Ryave and Stephen.