Everett motors from Virginia to GM

Having worked in just one place for the first 26 years of her professional career.

Having worked in just one place for the first 26 years of her professional career, Nancy Everett decided it was time for a fresh challenge. She sure found one. Last month the Virginia Retirement System’s longtime CIO decamped to take the same title, working under CEO Allen Reed, at General Motors Asset Management, which oversees nearly $100 billion in pension fund assets for the beleaguered automaker.

“When you start to think about career changes, you talk to the people you’ve known for years, and Allen was one of the people I called,” says Everett, 50. “I wasn’t intending to leave Virginia quickly, but this opportunity came up, and it was absolutely challenging and interesting to me.”

Tough as Everett’s job will be, it isn’t as terrifying as it might have been just two years ago, in the summer of 2003, when the company faced a pension funding shortfall of $19 billion. That June, General Motors tackled the problem head-on by borrowing $13.5 billion and adding another $5 billion in cash to help close the funding gap. But what worked then would not work now: Since the downgrade of GM’s debt to junk status in May, the cost of such a move would be prohibitive.

The solution served its purpose, however, and the pension plan -- at least in the U.S. -- is now overfunded by $1.5 billion. (Globally, GM’s pension plans are 93 percent funded, as of the end of 2004.) Last year the portfolio returned 14 percent net of fees.

Everett, who oversaw $43 billion in pension assets for VRS, is eager to work with GMAM’s investment team and arrives with an enviable record: The investment portfolio she oversaw returned 17.9 percent last year, largely on the strength of a 27.8 percent gain in its private equity holdings. Whether she can work similar magic with GMAM’s investment team remains to be seen, but she’s not one to walk away quickly.