These Are the Finalists for the 2023 Allocators’ Choice Awards

Vote now for the winners, including in two new categories: ESG Investor of the Year and Rookie Fund of the Year.


Illustration by II

Institutional Investor is pleased to announce the finalists for the sixth annual Allocators’ Choice Awards.

This year’s finalists were chosen from a pool of candidates submitted in May and June, supplemented by reporting completed by the editorial team during that time period.

Now comes the fun part. Asset allocators are invited to vote for the winners, who will be announced on September 12 at an awards dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City. Institutional Investor will also honor Andrew Golden, the longtime president of the Princeton University Investment Company, with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Only in-house staff members at pension funds, endowments, foundations, sovereign wealth funds, and family offices globally can vote for their peers. To submit a ballot, please use this link. Voting closes July 28.

Here are details on the categories and past winners. Allocators, request an invite to the dinner here.


Advocate of the Year

This award recognizes asset owners who are champions of their teams, funds, or the profession at large. The finalists encompass a wide range of advocacy work, from diversity and inclusion efforts to improving standards in the alternatives investment industry.

Michael W. Frerichs, Illinois State Treasurer, for pushing for more transparency in the private equity and alternatives investment industry. Frerichs has appeared before the Senate and has submitted opinion letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission expressing the need for more disclosure on private equity fees and performance.

Institutional Allocators for Diversity Equity & Inclusion (co-founders: Bhakti Mirchandani and Sophia Tsai, Trinity Church Wall Street, and Rob Rahbari and Stephanie Westen, University of Rochester), for its work to provide open-source research and access to diverse managers for asset owners. Through collaborative efforts, IADEI has grown its member base to over 700 investment professionals.

Aeisha Mastagni, portfolio manager at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, for her work on corporate engagement and investor stewardship. Mastagni was instrumental in Engine No. 1’s win against Exxon, and she has worked to use CalSTRS’s proxy voting power to effect change at portfolio companies. Mastagni was recently named board chair for the Council of Institutional Investors.

Carlos Rangel, CIO, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, for his work to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at Kellogg and beyond. In 2022, Rangel joined the U.S. Treasury Department’s Advisory Committee on Racial Equity, where he advises the department on efforts to advance racial equity in the economy.

Susan Ridlen, CIO, Eli Lilly and Co., for her legislative advocacy on behalf of corporate pension plans following the passage of the Secure 2.0 Act in 2022. She has met with lawmakers to advise on issues including frivolous litigation against corporate pension plans.

Mario Therrien, senior vice president and head of investment funds and external management at Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), for his work as chairman of the Standards Board for Alternative Investments’ board of trustees. With his oversight, SBAI is working toward developing tools and guidance for alternatives investment managers and establishing a framework for carbon footprint measurement.

The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Co. (Rich Hall, CIO), for its work to develop young talent in the asset management industry. Through its UTIMCO Scholars program — founded with the help of Drury Morris and now led by Adam Wright — the endowment provides mentoring, career coaching, and internships for 40 first-generation and Pell Grant recipient students annually.

ESG Investor of the Year

Finalists in this brand-new category have set ESG policies and follow them either throughout the portfolio or through dedicated platforms. This year’s nominees place a heavy focus on energy transition.

APG Asset Management (Ronald Wuijster, CEO), for its longtime ESG investment efforts. In 2022, the pension fund partnered with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System to acquire energy transition platform Groendus. It also purchased a majority stake in Quinbrook Infrastructure’s Gemini, which is slated to be the largest solar project in the United States.

The Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (Jonathan Grabel, CIO), for its embedded, broad approach to ESG within the portfolio. In recent years, the retirement fund has reviewed its asset class structures, which resulted in tilting real assets toward emerging energy sources. LACERA has since committed $3 billion to private real asset funds that have exposures to renewables and energy transition assets.

The McKnight Foundation (Elizabeth McGeveran, director of investments), for its ongoing dedication to mission-aligned investments. The foundation addresses mission alignment across four categories: as an asset owner, as a customer of financial services, as a shareholder of corporations, and as a market participant. Its primary focus is on reducing carbon emissions and building inclusive communities in Minnesota.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Anastasia Titarchuk, CIO), for its $20 billion Sustainable Investments and Climate Solutions program, which has a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2040. The program invests across asset classes, including green bonds, clean and green infrastructure funds, and LEED-certified real estate funds.

Temasek Holdings (Rohit Sipahimalani, CIO), for its GenZero investment platform, through which it has committed to deploy $3.6 billion in long-term, flexible capital to accelerate decarbonization globally. Focus areas include technology solutions, natural restoration, and carbon ecosystem development. Temasek is striving toward halving its net emissions by 2030.

Trinity Church Wall Street (Meredith Jenkins, CIO), for its honest and purposeful approach to responsible investing. The nonprofit institution developed a three-pronged strategy to better select managers that are aligned with its responsible investment goals.

Innovator of the Year

This award recognizes investors who think creatively, take an inspired approach to problem-solving, or put a unique spin on portfolio management.

TJ Carlson, CIO at the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System, for his work on improving the technology and back-office infrastructure for the pension fund. In addition to his role at MOSERS, Carlson serves as the investor board co-chair at AIF, an independent economic think tank focused on institutional investment policy.

Julio Delgado, chief investment strategist at the American Red Cross, for his unique approach toward risk management. The fund runs an illiquid alternatives book, as well as a liquid portfolio that places a heavy focus on derivatives to manage risk. Instead of hiring external managers to invest that part of the portfolio, the small team does it in-house.

Marcus Frampton, CIO at Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., for decreasing the fund’s private equity allocation while many of its peers were digging in. The fund has also added a tactical allocation bucket, which allows it to tap topical investments across asset classes.

Jason Malinowski, CIO at the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System, for his work on “liability-aware investing.” Malinowski has questioned the place that hedge funds hold in public pension allocations due to the lack of predictability around their returns. According to a nominator, Malinowski is a “unique thinker among CIOs.”

Katherine Molnar, CIO at the Fairfax County Police Officers Retirement System, for its smart approach to tapping into blockchain technology. The retirement system invested in Morgan Creek’s Blockchain Opportunities Fund back in 2019 and managed to avoid the FTX fallout in 2023.

Mark Steed, CIO at the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, for his work to link portfolio volatility and contribution-rate volatility. The resulting actuarial model revealed that PSPRS could take more risk than initially expected, leading to more opportunistic investments in the portfolio. PSPRS also employs a unique decision-making process that allows it to assess confidence in expected returns.

Investment Committee/Board of the Year

This category is for the committees and boards that empower investment teams to make the best possible decisions. This year’s finalists have made challenging decisions, whether that means outsourcing investments or being flexible on asset allocation policies in the name of attractive investments.

Cleveland Clinic (Patrick Auletta, chair), for striking the right balance between corporate and investment finance — a rarity among healthcare institutions. CIO Stefan Strein has worked effectively alongside the board to not only post strong results but also attract and retain talented investors.

DePaul University (Judith Greffin, chair), for its work alongside the investment office to improve performance significantly over the past year. The board is “purposeful” and has “strong experience across the investment world,” according to a DePaul nominator.

Harvard Management Co. (Paul J. Finnegan, chair), for serving as a “tremendous resource” for HMC’s team. This year, the board added two new members: Tricia Glynn, a managing partner at private equity firm Advent International; and Keith Johnson, a founding partner and the CEO at Sequoia Heritage.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Scott M. Stuart, chair), for using its talented board members to its advantage. With the likes of Tiger Management president Alexander Robertson, Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein, and Duquesne Investors’ Stanley Druckenmiller, it’s no wonder that the healthcare fund is able to tap some of the best opportunities on the market.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation (Dimple Sahni, chair), for sticking with its 2018 commitment to move 100 percent of its assets into mission-aligned investments. This past year, the foundation chose to outsource its investments to two Black-owned, BIPOC-led OCIO providers focused on impact investing, Bivium Capital and WestFuller Advisors.

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board (Barbara Nick, chair), for allowing flexibility in asset allocation ranges amid a volatile market. This enabled SWIB to continue allocating to attractive private investment opportunities while its peers were forced to hold off or even sell assets on the secondary markets. In 2022, the board adopted a new long-term incentive plan to retain senior professionals.

Partnership of the Year

This category recognizes exemplary collaboration between allocators and managers, or among multiple allocators. The finalists have partnered to achieve high returns, tap the best managers, or share information and resources.

Alberta Investment Management Corp. and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, for finding an unconventional way to share resources and deal flow. Their private credit partnership allows PSP to write bigger checks to its favorite managers. AIMCo, meanwhile, has been able to quickly grow its presence in the private credit market.

Arizona State University and BlackRock, for an innovative outsourced partnership structure that positions BlackRock as an extension of Arizona State’s investment team. The two completed a joint strategic asset allocation review in 2017 that has paid off: In fiscal year 2022, ASU posted a 1.4 percent annual return, placing it in the top decile of endowments in a period when many peers lost money.

New Jersey State Investment Council and GCM Grosvenor, for a real estate partnership that provides the pension fund with access to small managers it may not otherwise be able to tap due to allocation size constraints. The $250 million partnership will also allow New Jersey to obtain early access to emerging real estate managers.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas and its strategic partners BlackRock, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, and Morgan Stanley, for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. TRS’s 15-year-old strategic partnership program has generated $1.3 billion for the portfolio, via joint research projects, conferences, and deep dives.

The University of California and Blackstone for their Blackstone Real Estate Income Trust strategic venture. Few partnerships between allocators and managers have made headlines quite like this January deal, in which UC acquired $4 billion in BREIT shares that it agreed to hold for effectively six years amid Blackstone’s struggle to lower redemption requests. In return, the endowment receives an 11.25 percent minimum annualized net return over the six-year hold period. A win-win for both sides.

Rookie Fund of the Year

This new award recognizes investment offices that are younger than five years old, which have successfully hired a strong CIO, started building out a team, and defined an investment vision and process.

Bryn Mawr College (Brooke Jones, CIO) hired its first-ever investment chief in 2020. Since joining the fund, Jones has hired a diverse team and is working toward whittling down Bryn Mawr’s portfolio of roughly 100 managers to a more concentrated investment strategy.

Cedars-Sinai (Pasy Wang, CIO) hired Wang as its first investment chief in August 2022. She has since started building her team, tapping talent like Brian Chen from Caltech, who is now the hospital system’s managing director for private investments. Wang has been tasked with designing the fund’s portfolio with the help of board members including Ares co-founder David Kaplan, Oaktree Capital CEO Jay Wintrob, Barclays chief risk officer Dale Cochran, and Milken Family Investment Company CEO and CIO Josh Lobel.

Constellation Energy Corp. (Brian Andersen, CIO) split from Exelon, an established investment office, in 2022. Under the oversight of its newly minted CIO, the group hired a slate of new investment professionals to complement those who joined from Exelon. Andersen and his team facilitated the split, then began forging their own investment path to manage the $25 billion in assets.

Inatai Foundation (Peng Wang, CIO) was formed in 2021, four years after Kaiser Permanente acquired Group Health Cooperative and used the proceeds to fund the Inatai Foundation. The $2 billion foundation has since hired a team of eight. It has focused its work on making innovative investments in areas like digital assets and China.

Smith College (Lisa Howie, CIO) moved its investment office in-house in 2020 after years of working with an OCIO provider. Howie joined in 2021 after a long tenure at the Yale Investment Office. She has since hired a team of five to manage the $2.5 billion endowment.

University Pension Plan (Aaron Bennett, CIO) launched in 2020 with a bold vision: Pool university assets across Canada to create an investment powerhouse that not only prioritizes returns but also ESG investments. CIO Bennett has hired a number of talented investors to manage the fund’s $10.8 billion in assets.

Team of the Year

The finalists in the Team of the Year category have found creative ways to retain talent, ensure diversity among their ranks, improve investment outcomes, and ultimately work well as a unit.

British Columbia Investment Management Corp. (Gordon J. Fyfe, CEO/CIO), for its impressive performance, with a 3.5 percent net return for the year ending March 31, 2023. The team has placed a heavy focus on direct investments and plans to ultimately grow its allocation to 50 percent. In 2022, BCI opened a New York office to broaden its global reach.

Columbia Investment Management Co. (Kim Lew, CEO), for working to lower the fund’s investment risk amid volatile markets. The team, a mix of both new and long-tenured staffers, has flourished under Lew’s leadership.

Johnson & Johnson (Neil Roache, CIO), for revamping its portfolio to focus not only on asset allocation but also consider liabilities while investing. Accomplishments include implementing derivative overlays, adding a private credit allocation, and building out a global private market program for plan participants.

Lehigh University (Kristin Agatone, CIO), for a generalist team that — in spite of its small size — works to deeply diligence every investment, even the continuation funds many of its peers pass on. With Lehigh’s hybrid work structure, team members are able to balance work and life, even with a demanding travel schedule.

Northwestern University (Amy Falls, CIO), for shifting to a more collaborative approach among team members after Falls took the helm in 2021. The team has been tasked with more stringent fossil fuel and energy transition investment guidelines, which it is now working to implement.

The Smithsonian Institution (Amy Chen, CIO), for its ability to retain talent for the long haul. A large portion of the team’s senior leadership has been with the foundation for more than 13 years, and CIO Chen has made it a priority to nurture innovation and diversity among the group.

South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission (Geoffrey Berg, CIO), for outperforming all of its benchmarks since 2018, when RSIC moved to a CIO delegation structure. The team posted these returns while working on a hybrid basis, which a nominator lauded for promoting a healthy work/life balance.

CIO of the Year

The CIO of the Year award honors all-star investment chiefs who not only post strong performance, but also effectively lead their teams and contribute to the broader community.

Waymond Harris, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, for positioning BCBS’s portfolio to weather the market storm of inflation and rising interest rates. Over the past five years, Harris has added to the portfolio’s diversifying strategies and real assets. He also built the insurer’s alternatives portfolio from scratch, working to balance appropriate liquidity with the attractive returns offered by private equity.

Rodney June, Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System, for his work to evolve the LACERS portfolio during his ten-year tenure as CIO. Under June, LACERS has added emerging markets and private credit to its allocation and has increased its investments in private equity. June incorporates ESG and an emerging managers strategy into the broader portfolio.

Ken Lee, Children’s Health, for building a healthcare investment office in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lee hired a diverse team, both in demographics and in work experience, and was able to build enough trust with the hospital’s board to receive delegated authority over investments. Since then, he has employed creative solutions to turn over the portfolio, which has led to benchmark outperformance.

Erik Lundberg, University of Michigan, for managing to post modest growth amid 2022’s challenging investment environment. Lundberg’s decision to invest in renewable fuel and sustainable energy contributed significantly to the portfolio’s success. The long-tenured CIO not only contributes to the endowment but also to his broader community, serving on investment boards for local organizations and OCIO providers.

John D. Skjervem, Utah Retirement Systems, for quickly establishing himself as an adept leader for the Utah pension following the 2021 retirement of his predecessor Bruce Cundick. Well-respected among peers, Skjervem acts as an official advisor to multiple pension funds. He is also willing to question the status quo, choosing to push against divestment and ESG in favor of URS’s high-performing energy allocation.

Allison Thacker, Rice Management Co., for building a portfolio that successfully weathered 2022’s rising inflation, thanks to a heavy allocation to real assets. Under Thacker’s leadership, Rice plans for its energy portfolio to be carbon neutral by 2030. The endowment recently invested in a 2,500-acre solar development on university property and participated in a timber-based carbon credit program.

Catherine Ulozas, Drexel University, for positioning the endowment portfolio to withstand the inflationary environment by prioritizing real assets and liquidity. In 2022, Drexel placed in the top 2 percent of the Wilshire survey of endowments and foundations in terms of performance. Ulozas places a heavy focus on tapping into the Drexel community and works across university departments to assess investment opportunities.