What Robin Hood's New Board Members Bring to the Foundation

The Robin Hood Foundation, whose board is filled with Wall Street big shots, just announced that Laura Arnold and Phillippe Lafont will be joining the board.

Arnold, the wife of retired Houston-based hedge fund manager John Arnold, and head of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), brings a bit of an outsider's perspective to the organization. (See IP's profile of Laura Arnold.) While most of the board members live and work in and around New York, the Arnolds may be able to take more of an objective view of the foundation's programs and its grantees, and can draw on their experiences funding in other areas of the country. Both the Robin Hood Foundation and LJAF are known for their rigorous screening of potential grantees, making it seem like a good match.

The Arnolds are also known for their bold gifts, like the $10 million they gave last year to keep the Head Start program running through the government shutdown, or the $25 million that has gone to high-performing charter schools in New Orleans, so we may see similar gifts directed toward childhood education in New York, as well as a stronger focus by the Robin Hood Foundation on other issues the Arnolds support, like criminal justice, health and nutrition, and pension reform, which is a particularly tough issue for New York. “Laura’s experience leading the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which strives to produce substantial, widespread and lasting changes to society makes her an outstanding addition to our board,” said Barry Sternlicht, chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group and chairman of Robin Hood’s board of directors. (See Laura's full profile.)

And what about Phillippe Laffont? The disciple of Tiger Management founder Julian Robertson and founder of Coatue Management is ranked no. 21 on Forbes' list of highest-earning hedge fund managers. He has been increasingly involved with the Robin Hood Foundation over the last several years, as a member of the Robin Hood Prize Advisory Board, and one of the leaders of the Foundation's innaugural Robin Hood Investor's Conference, which raised $5.7 million for the organization last year. The Robin Hood Prize was just launched in March, and will award $5 million over the next five years to projects that produce scalable technology solutions that help students, particularly those in a community college setting, stay on track for a timely graduation. 

It would seem, then, that both Arnold and Laffont see education as one of the primary tools that can create long-term solutions by getting at the root causes of poverty, and have a tendency to take an entrepreneurial approach to their philanthropy, so look for these philosophies to start appearing more strongly in the Robin Hood Foundation's programs and initiatives.

Additionally, Robin Hood Foundation board member Steve Cohen of SAC infamy, who is now chairman and CEO of Point72 Asset Management (which is basically his family office), will step down and serve instead on the Robin Hood Emeritus Board. It's surprising that Robin Hood hasn't pushed for more distance from Cohen. On the other hand, as the co-chairman of the Robin Hood Veterans Advisory Board, Cohen has been a strong proponent of veterans' causes, helping the foundation create and support programs designed to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan assimilate back into civilian life. (See IP's profile of Steve Cohen.)  “On behalf of all of us at Robin Hood, I’d like to express our gratitude to Steve for his decade of service, particularly with his work on behalf of veterans,” said Mr. Sternlicht.