How GIC’s Cautious Experimentation Is Paying Off


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In a rare set of stateside interviews, GIC executives reveal the sovereign wealth fund’s “rifle-shot, cannonball approach” to investing.

GIC, the massive sovereign wealth fund for the government of Singapore, likes to experiment before going all-in on an investment.

The fund has made a name for itself by testing a new market, region, or strategy, then going all in when they get a signal that it’s working. The sovereign wealth fund’s approach to investing blends consistency and preparedness with a willingness to innovate – which has paid off during its more than 40 years in business.

“We do take sort of a rifle shot then cannonball approach, which is to say, we’ll experiment with new ideas in not a huge way,” said Eric Wilmes, GIC’s president of the Americas and head of private equity, Americas. “And those [teams] that are successful get access to more capital.”

One simple example: 40 years ago, the fund experimented with opening its first office abroad, in New York, to see if a local presence would lead to better investments. Today, the fund has 11 offices globally, including two in the United States.

“One of the great powers of GIC is it’s an unapologetically Singaporean company, but it’s flexible enough to understand the local context and work within local mores,” added Adam Gallistel, a managing director at GIC who heads up the organization’s New York office and is head of global real estate credit and head of real estate, Americas.

In a rare set of interviews in the U.S., Wilmes, Gallistel, and other GIC executives talked about the background to the fund’s stateside presence — and their potential plans for the next 40 years.


GIC was established in 1981 as the first non-commodity sovereign wealth fund in the world. Back then, sovereign wealth funds were typically established to manage oil reserves on behalf of states or countries (the first is said to be Texas Permanent School Fund, established in 1854).

Singapore was a notable exception. “At the time, that was considered a relatively bold thing to do,” Wilmes said.

GIC manages the majority of Singapore’s assets and operates as a private company wholly owned by the nation’s government. The government does not interfere with GIC’s operations, and treats the entity as a third-party fund manager to which it pays fees.

The country’s capital is also partly managed by Temasek, an investment company that operates independently and is owned by the Singapore Minister of Finance, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore —the nation’s central bank. The investing styles of Temasek and the Monetary Authority are on opposite ends of the risk spectrum, with GIC’s relatively conservative approach in the middle.

It’s worked. “Singapore 50 years ago was not a wealthy nation,” Gallistel said. “And today, Singapore is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and it has gotten there by investing in its most precious resource — candidly, its only real resource — which is its people.”

A tipping point in GIC’s history came three years after its establishment, when its executives decided to set up a presence for the sovereign wealth fund abroad. According to Wilmes, they decided that “we can’t operate a huge global portfolio from Singapore, solely. We need to get our teams out into the field.”

In 1984, GIC opened its first international investment office in New York. Wilmes said the idea was to allow GIC’s nascent team to have face time with traders and investment bankers in the states. GIC entered the states through fixed income investing, but as the markets have evolved from paper orders to Bloomberg terminals to artificial intelligence, so has the team and portfolio.

Today, the organization has eleven global offices including New York and invests across asset classes and geographies. About 38 percent of its capital is invested in the United States, up from 34 percent two years ago.

“While ultimately we do report back into Singapore, we’re taking a page from a sort of military handbook,” Gallistel said. “In the military, the people best situated to understand the facts on the ground and to react to the facts on the ground are the people on the ground. And that understanding runs deep throughout GIC as a result, we’ve been prudently empowered to react to the circumstances as they come here.”

Today, GIC sets its own terms when engaging with the public. It doesn’t disclose one-year returns, nor does it share the size of the pool it is investing. (Industry watchers suggest that AUM is somewhere between $700 billion and $800 billion.)

The returns that GIC does report are listed in U.S. dollars, rather than in Singapore dollars to avoid confusion in the global press. As of March 31, 2023, GIC’s 20-year nominal returns were 6.9 percent. Its real returns, above global inflation during that period, were 4.6 percent.

The fund takes a barbell approach to investing, starting small with new ideas, then going all-in when something is working. It’s a blend of careful planning and risk-taking that relies on GIC’s intensive scenario analysis process. “It’s always prepare, don’t predict, and be ready for a variety of scenarios,” Wilmes said.

One example of this approach is GIC’s direct investing unit. After Wilmes joined, GIC decided to set up a direct investing team in the U.S. In its first year, the team invested several hundred million dollars, which according to Wilmes, wouldn’t have a huge impacton the overall portfolio. But he added that some of those early companies GIC invested in remain in the organization’s portfolio.

“Companies go through lifecycles,” said Mark Lee, head of global active equities at GIC. “They start private, but they don’t end up private. They become public companies, good companies stay listed, and they exist for a long time.” GIC has seen companies evolve from an early-stage venture-backed startup to the public markets, he added.

Heidi Miskin, a 20-year-veteran at GIC, has experienced this long-term perspective first-hand. Miskin, who is the head of funds and co-investments for the Americas, joined in 2004 as a part of a two-person team.

“When I first joined, I was given coverage of several fund managers, and actually I still cover them today,” she said.

Similarly, Gallistel joined GIC around the same time as Miskin and has spent his entire career at the sovereign wealth fund. “The job sort of reinvented itself every few years, partly because I’ve sort of gotten to grow up alongside the firm,” he said. “The scope and breadth and diversity of the opportunities that GIC has afforded me personally in my professional career development has just been frankly unparalleled.”

Looking ahead, GIC’s team emphasized that, despite current market conditions, they are focused on maintaining a steady state. This means sticking to a pacing plan in private markets and avoiding making big bets on any passing trend. The scenario analysis continues, and the fund picks investments only when it’s wholly confident about the opportunity.

“We’re really operating consistently,” Miskin said. “But I would say we’re a little bit more heightened on the underwriting just because of the uncertainty with the markets. That said, there’s opportunity in every market.”

And GIC is active in other areas. Last year, the fund formally established its Sustainability Solutions Group within its private equity team, which has invested in approximately a dozen strategies, Miskin said. This effort spans the fund’s portfolio: In equities, GIC has a climate change portfolio, for example..

To facilitate adding sustainable investments across the portfolio, GIC launched a Sustainable Investment Fund four years ago, which includes all asset classes. The structure allowed GIC to write smaller check sizes than it might normally, while pursuing nascent opportunities. It “became a showcase and catalyst for a lot of the ground teams to work on their own climate initiatives,” said Lee.

A recent example is GIC’s series E investment in the bus company Zum. The company started out using an algorithm to create bus routes, rather than mapping themout by hand. In San Francisco, Zum was able to reduce the number of buses by 20 percent just by implementing the algorithm. The buses also use smart tracking ofstudents. Now the company is pivoting to electric vehicles.

“Because we are large and diversified, we’re able to test out some of these strategies until they get to a point of scale and they can have their own three letter acronym,” Miskin said.

The fund is also working toward an expansion in the U.S.

The sovereign wealth fund has approximately 300 people in New York — and has plans to grow its real estate footprint in the city.

Having long occupied the ninth floor of 280 Park Avenue, the sovereign wealth fund is in the process of building upwards — adding another floor to its office space, as well as a staircase conjoining the two. By December of next year, it will occupy two floors of the building.

The expansion is part of a broader return-to-work trend among institutional investors.

“I think one of our strengths is our flexibility, but flexibility without connectivity means that ideas and thoughts might flow through the cracks,” Gallistel said. “We really view the office as a hub. And so really I spend a lot of time trying to increase the connectivity between private equity and real estate and our fixed income people and the equities people and trying to make sure that we are all, at the end of the day, representing one client.”