Alexander Friedman, chief financial officer of the world's largest private foundation, says he's leaving next year to pursue other interests.

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Alexander Friedman, chief financial officer of the world’s largest private foundation, says he’s leaving next year to pursue other interests.

Friedman, CFO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced his intention to leave early next year in an e-mail today to colleagues at the foundation, calling the move a personal decision.

A former investment banker at Lazard, Friedman said he would most likely return to the private sector, but he is also considering government and non-profit work.

He presided over a period of rapid, sometimes tumultuous growth after billionaire investor Warren Buffett pledged to give the foundation most of his fortune, then estimated at more than $30 billion. Over the past year Friedman has had to steer the foundation’s budget through the economic crisis, and he recently launched its first foray into program related investing, which I wrote about here.

“I was really brought in to help the organization scale,” he said in an interview, adding that when he started in March of 2007, the foundation had less than half of its current payout (now about $3.5 billion) and about a third of its current headcount (now 781 employees).

“The real thing is I made a personal decision when I came here that it would be a tremendous honor to work with Patty [Stonesifer] and Bill and Melinda [Gates] as the foundation doubled in size, and that was an exciting challenge for me and we have pretty much done that.”

Friedman would not say if he was considering any specific offers but said he wanted to give the foundation time to plan for his departure.

“I feel great about the experience here and super positive about the organization,” he said.

Friedman said he will remain at the foundation until about February to make sure the 2010 budget is finalized and work handed over to the next CFO “as responsibly as possible.” He said he intends to stay in the Seattle area “for the foreseeable future.”

“To resort to a CFO-like phrase for a moment, my ‘bottom line’ is that I came here to try and accomplish a set of discrete goals and to contribute to the development of strong strategies and operational procedures,” he wrote in his email to colleagues.

“I am proud to have been part of the team that strove for these goals and made real progress on our collective agenda. Now, it is with great excitement that I begin to think about what comes next.”