CalPERS Finds Its New CIO

After a lengthy search for Ben Meng’s replacement, America’s largest pension fund has landed on Canadian investor Nicole Mussico.

Nicole T. Musicco (LinkedIn photo)

Nicole T. Musicco

(LinkedIn photo)

The California Public Employees’ Pension Retirement System’s search for a new chief investment officer has come to a close.

On Tuesday, the $500 billion pension fund named Nicole Mussico, head of RedBird Capital Partners’ Canadian business, as its new investment chief.

CalPERS’s previous CIO Ben Meng resigned in August 2020 after roughly a year and a half at the fund. During his tenure, Meng faced anti-Chinese racism from the public, a disclosure scandal, and large investment misses after removing a tail-risk hedge just before the market crashed.

CalPERS spent the following year and a half looking for a strong replacement for the fund.

“We were determined to take our time to ensure we found the right candidate who could succeed in a high-pressure and demanding environment,” said CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost in a statement. “Nicole is exactly the leader we want to lead CalPERS’s investment office and is an exceptional addition to our team.”

Mussico joins from RedBird, a $5 billion private investment firm founded by former Goldman Sachs partner Gerry Cardinale. Prior to joining RedBird, Mussico managed the private markets investment program at the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario. She previously led both private and public equity teams during a 16-year tenure at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. She was responsible for opening OTPP’s Hong Kong office and helping to build out its presence in Asia.

In addition to her work in investment management, Mussico serves as a member of the investment committee of the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation. She is also a board member for Youth Employment Services in Toronto.

In Tuesday’s announcement, Mussico said she is ready to build on the improvements CalPERS has made in recent years during her time as CIO.

“CalPERS has achieved remarkable success during the last five years, strengthening the organization, navigating the pandemic, and improving its funded status,” Musicco said.

CalPERS’ funded status has increased 20 percentage points from 60 percent in 2017 to 80 percent today, according to the announcement. The fund adopted a new asset allocation mix in late 2021 to increase its private equity investments to 13 percent, and will add a private debt allocation of 5 percent. The fund will also add 5 percent leverage to its investment portfolio.

“My goal is to build on these achievements recognizing that, as long-term investors, CalPERS must maintain focus and discipline to deliver consistent investment returns and retirement security for dedicated public servants,” Mussico said.

Mussico will start her new role at CalPERS on March 28, reporting to Frost. She will lead a team of more than 300.

Dore Partnership, a recruitment firm led by Charles Dore, aided in the search.