Gary Brinson was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He graduated from Seattle University in 1966 with a degree in finance.
After graduating from SU, Brinson earned an MBA from Washington State University. He was set to enter the PhD program at Stanford but was instead encouraged by Yale professor Eli Shapiro to join a portfolio management group at Traveler’s Insurance for a year or two. He decided to veer from his academic plan to try his hand at investing.
Through the 1970s, Brinson rose to become CEO of Traveler’s Investment Management Company. He became interested in investing globally, which was quite novel at the time, and joined First Chicago Bank to pursue that interest in 1981. By 1989 Brinson and his coworkers bought out their investment group from First Chicago and founded Brinson Partners.
In the mid 1990s Brinson Partners was acquired by Swiss Bank, and subsequently Swiss Bank acquired UBS. Brinson took over as chair of UBS Asset Management and led the group until 2001. According to published reports, Brinson was overseeing the management of approximately 1 trillion USD.
Brinson has been very active in the Association for Investment Management and Research (AIMR), the organization that oversees the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. In 1999, Brinson received AIMR’s Award for Professional Excellence. Other recipients include John Bogle, Warren Buffet, and John Templeton. Brinson has further distinguished himself as the recipient of the FMA’s Outstanding Financial Executive award and the Graham and Dodd Scroll.
When CFA Institute Magazine ran a cover story in 2003 about living legends in the investment profession, Brinson was one of seven individuals featured in the article (along with Buffet and Templeton).
Although Brinson never made it back to Stanford to pursue a doctoral degree, he has published research that any Stanford professor would be proud of. During his career, Brinson championed several important insights that are seen as conventional wisdom today but at the time were quite revolutionary. Perhaps his most influential work was a 1986 article in the Financial Analysts Journal explaining that asset allocation is the predominant influence on portfolio return variability.
Today, Brinson works chiefly with the Brinson Foundation, which he founded to support charitable causes that work to encourage personal initiative, advance individual freedoms and liberties, and positively contribute to society in the areas of education and scientific research. As of 2013, the foundation distributed over 41 million USD via more than 1,200 grants to nonprofit organizations.