The Kresge Foundation Plans For Its Future as Its CIO Prepares to Step Down

Longtime investment chief Robert Manilla is retiring in June 2022. John Barker, managing director, will take his place.

John A. Barker (Courtesy photo)

John A. Barker

(Courtesy photo)

The Kresge Foundation is poised to implement a succession plan as its longtime chief investment officer, Robert Manilla, prepares to retire in June 2022.

The $4.3 billion Detroit-based foundation’s president and CEO Rip Rapson is expected to announce Thursday that Kresge is promoting John Barker, a managing director at the fund, to the role of deputy CIO. Once Manilla officially steps down, Barker will serve as the foundation’s new vice president and CIO.

Meanwhile, Venus Phillips, an investment director at the foundation, has been promoted to the role of managing director. Kresge plans to launch a search for her replacement in the fall.

Kresge has been working through succession planning for the past 18 months or so, Manilla said by phone Tuesday. “I’ve been working hard at this for a long time,” he noted. “I love the team and I like where we’re at.”

Manilla joined Kresge in 2005 after 20 years at Chrysler Corp., where he worked in management for everything from product development to capital markets and asset management. Now, in addition to working at Kresge, Manilla sits on investment committees at Boeing Corp., Trinity Health, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

He is credited with building Kresge’s professional investment office, and with helping the organization return 9 percent on an annualized basis, according to the announcement. Since 2008, Kresge’s endowment produced gains of $3.7 billion, it said.

But Manilla hopes his legacy won’t just be about returns.

“When I look back at the two things I’m proudest of at Kresge, it’s both this team I’ve been able to attract and retain, and the idea that CIOs at foundations and endowments should be more than just allocators,” he said.

Manilla said he firmly believes that an investment office like his at Kresge should do more than allocate capital — they should look at using that capital to advance their organization’s work on social problems, encourage diversity and inclusion, and ensure fair compensation for workers.

“We’re not in a silo investing our assets,” Manilla said. “You’re not there just to manage money, you’re there to make the institution better. You need to embrace the fact that you’re in an institution and you’re there to make that better.”

As for the team, Manilla said he is proud of setting up programs to attract investment talent to Detroit, including launching student-led investment funds at local universities and running an analyst program within the investment team.

“The senior team knows each other [and] has worked together for the better part of 15 years,” Manilla said. “We add Venus and Adrian [Ohmer] to the mix and that is a senior leadership team that knows what they’re doing.”

Barker has been with Kresge as a managing director for 14 years, having joined from the University of Notre Dame’s investment office where he was an assistant investment director for five years. In 2018 and 2019, Barker was recognized as one of Institutional Investor’s Most Wanted Allocators, after recruiters pointed to him as Manilla’s potential successor.

“Between Notre Dame and Kresge, he has learned to be a premier allocator of capital,” Manilla said.

Manilla credited Barker with encouraging Kresge to invest in cryptocurrency early on, and with having “phenomenal contacts” in the venture investment world. Barker has “a dogged determination to dig in and dive deep,” on investing, Manilla added.

As for Phillips, she joined Kresge in 2019, joining from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (now Stellantis), where she was the head of public markets. In the past, she worked as a portfolio manager for Morningstar Investment Management, a portfolio analyst at the University of Chicago Office of Investments, a fund manager associate at NexGen Capital Partners, and an investment strategy analyst at JP Morgan Private Bank, the announcement said.

Phillips was among the rising stars who took part in Institutional Investor’s Next CIO competition in 2019. “She will be a CIO at some point,” Manilla said. “It’s just a question of when.”

Manilla also highlighted managing directors Jon Gentry and Elizabeth Goldsberry, who have been with the foundation for years, as well as Ohmer, the fund’s investment director who joined in 2020.

“I never want to look past those people,” he said. “They’re as important as those people who got that promotion.”