Justin Barton ’98

May 13, 2024

Justin Barton ’98 is a first generation American and only child. He moved frequently during his childhood — seven times before the age of six and numerous times throughout elementary and middle school. It wasn’t until he was in 9th grade that his family found their way to Vermont. He said, “We ended up in St Johnsbury when my father became ill and could no longer work. My parents discovered this incredible school where I could get a great education and we could afford to live on my mom’s social worker salary.”


His transition to SJA was not easy. “It was a difficult adjustment for me, initially. I started right after winter break my freshman year, having driven across the country from California. I felt like everyone already knew each other and I was an outsider. It was a tough first semester… and honestly a couple of years, but I did meet my (still) best friend Mark Gessner in Mr. Webbley’s second period English class. I didn’t know where to sit and Mark just smiled and said, ‘Sit right here,’ and pointed to the chair next to him.”


Outside of the classroom, Justin was busy competing as a three-sport athlete in football, ice hockey, and track & field. He recalled, “I’ve always been a big sports fan and athlete. I was lucky enough to compete for seven or eight state championships in different sports over four years and we won a few. Those bus rides and events were some of my favorite times in high school.”


When asked about memorable faculty or staff members, Justin said, “There really are so many. It’s astounding to me how special and impactful the faculty and staff at the Academy were at shaping who I am and giving me such a remarkable education. There are rarely days when I don’t think of someone from SJA and how they’ve made a difference to me.”


He mentions Ed Webbley (former English faculty) who he said, “taught me the beauty, simplicity, and humor of being succinct. His summary of The Fall of the House of Usher? ‘The house was cracked and so was Usher’.” Justin also mentioned, “Peter Gurnis (former English faculty), who was demanding, taught me how to write critically, and to recognize for the first time non-literal interpretations in literature.”


Justin continued, “My junior year was dominated by two of my favorite teachers ever: Erin Mayo (former English faculty) and Judith Kelley (former Social Studies faculty): AP English and AP US History. Both encouraged us to speak our minds, to be curious about the world, and to have clarity of thought in expressing those views. Both classes were on par with any Ivy League course I took in college. I feel fortunate to have been a student of theirs. Lou Daniele (former history department chair) taught my AP European History class my senior year. He retired that year, and I gave a short speech in Chapel as a testimonial to him. He was an encyclopedia of history and he knew my nerdy love of watching House of Parliament debates on PBS, often mentioning some ridiculous exchange to me before class.”


Justin also recalls faculty and staff members who shaped his life outside the classroom. “Tom Lovett (former headmaster), Sean Murphy (director of college counseling), and Jeff Lawson (former hockey coach) were all important to me as a young man. Finally, Larry Golden (former arts faculty) cheering us on at football and ice hockey games (often alongside my dad) are such great memories. It really was a special community.”


After graduating from SJA, Justin went on to attend Princeton University. He recalls, “I was as well prepared as any student from any big-name prep school. History and English classes were hardly different from the Academy and if we had politics and econ classes when I was there, I’m sure I’d have been just as well prepared. Most of all the Academy prepared me with how to learn.”


Justin now works as the Chief Investment Officer for the UCLA endowment, which is about a $4 billion pool of capital. How did he get involved in this field? He said, “I first learned about endowments while I was at Princeton. My sophomore year the university announced that students would no longer need student loans as the endowment was large enough to support all students receiving financial aid. It was the first time I saw the impact an endowment can have on an educational institution.”


Justin and his team make investments around the world across all sorts of asset classes (stocks, bonds, real estate, private markets). Ultimately, these investments go to benefit the public university where almost one-third of enrollees are first generation college students. He said, “UCLA also has a top tier health system. Knowing that my work helps impact this incredible institution in some small way is meaningful for me. My team hears all the time from me — ‘investing is simple, but don’t equate simple with easy.’ Politics (domestic and international), economic competition, behavioral psychology all come into play for us on a daily basis.”


Day to day, Justin said, “I spend most of the day reading. We have to think about how to invest UCLA’s capital effectively and that means reading about companies, managers, economic policies, and competitive dynamics. We have frequent meetings with our partners who invest capital that we allocate to them, as well as with potential investments. I have a board to report to along with our administration, and it’s important to keep them informed of how we are positioning the endowment. Most critically, I have a team of professionals working with me on both investments and operational activities. I spend time with them brainstorming ideas and ensuring they have the resources needed to do their jobs.”


Justin has lived and worked in Boston, Providence, New York, London and now Los Angeles, and has traveled to many more countries. Along with his family, Justin moved to Redondo Beach , California, in 2016 after nearly five years in London. His wife is from Southern California and, he said, “apart from the great weather, it is very close to our extended family. It’s been great for my children to spend time with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.”


When asked to give one piece of advice to students at SJA today, he said, “The Academy can give you absolutely all the tools you need for success in life, whatever you choose to do. The teachers there from career and technical education, to arts, to AP are top tier versus anywhere in the world. You are as good and talented and have as many opportunities to prove that as any student in the US, anywhere. Get as much out of it as you can.”


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