2014 Top Large Public Pension Investor: William Atwood

The Illinois State Board of Investment’s executive director saw its $14.5 billion pension return 18.9 percent in 2013.

William Atwood

William Atwood

As executive director of the Illinois State Board of Investment (ISBI), William Atwood views his job of managing and protecting $14.5 billion in pension assets as both a privilege and “a solemn duty.” Atwood, 52, was appointed to his post in March 2003, just a few months after the state’s then–new Democratic governor, Rod Blagojevich, had taken office. From the beginning Atwood strove to manage the state pension fund as transparently as possible. “We always asked ourselves, ‘What are we going to say to the Chicago Tribune’” if a reporter showed up asking questions, he recalls. The office never thought questions would come from federal investigators, but that is exactly what happened after the state began a corruption investigation into Blagojevich. “It is stressful having everyone look at you, but we hadn’t done anything to be ashamed of,” says Atwood. With Blagojevich imprisoned for corruption — on charges unrelated to ISBI — Illinois found itself at the center of another political firestorm: It has the worst funding ratio of any pension plan in the U.S. Yet through it all Atwood has quietly gone about the job of achieving strong investment results. For the year ended December, 31, 2013, ISBI returned 18.9 percent, considerably higher than its 15.2 percent benchmark.