Canadian Talent Triumphs Among Public Funds

Allocators and managers picked OPTrust’s Wei Xie as the top candidate of six peers to be a future chief investment officer, followed by Texas ERS deputy Sharmila Kassam.

Institutional Investor Public Funds Roundtable

Institutional Investor Public Funds Roundtable

Wei Xie — strategic director of Ontario’s C$20 billion ($16 billion) retirement system OPTrust — won the public funds round of Institutional Investor’s Next CIO competition Thursday in Los Angeles, California.

In close second was Sharmila Kassam, deputy CIO of the Employees’ Retirement System of Texas.

The six semi-finalists came out of a highly competitive pool of nominees. Anyone working for — but not leading — a North American public pension fund’s investment team was eligible for the Next CIO showdown.

From this universe of investors, II selected and vetted six semi-finalists: Xie, Kassam, Jennifer Johnson (senior investment officer, MoDOT & Patrol Employees Retirement System), Mike Rosborough (investment director, CalPERS), Chris Schelling (director of private equity, Texas Municipal Retirement System), and Allyson Tucker (senior investment officer, Washington State Investment Board).

Xie and Kassam will advance to the finals on November 29 in New York City, where they will meet the winners from three other semi-final rounds ahead of the Allocators’ Choice Awards.


[II Deep Dive: Six Young Allocators Threw Down, One Prevailed]

In addition to Kassam and Xie, two other finalists have been determined. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan investment director Waymond Harris triumphed at the corporate and insurance event, with MassMutual portfolio manager Phillip Titolo coming in second.

Over three rounds of questions — none of which they knew in advance — the semi-finalists had two minutes each to impress the audience with their investment acumen, fiduciary sensibility, and quick wits.

Public-fund contestants had to, for example, identify areas of the industry ripe for disruption, define their ethical boundaries on gifts from asset managers, and make tough calls on hypothetical career situations.

The next semi-final round of Next CIO features six emerging leaders from university funds and nonprofits, and takes place the afternoon of June 6, at II’s annual Endowments & Foundations Roundtable in Boston, Massachusetts.