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For Ashbel Williams Jr., Rebuilding Trust Is Part of the Plan

The executive director and CIO of the Florida State Board of Administration has kept a tight lid on the funds’ all-in costs.

  • Frances Denmark

When Ashbel Williams Jr. returned for his second tour at the Florida State Board of Administration (SBA), in October 2008, as executive director and CIO, the Tallahassee-based system was already caught in the financial crisis’s giant vortex. Working to save a system that had crashed to $85 billion in assets by March 2009 from $136.6 billion in June 2007, Williams had to tackle massive fallout from the credit crisis, which had decimated a $33 billion money market pool, and rebuild trust in the government agency, which oversees nearly 40 separate funds, including the fifth-largest public retirement system in the U.S.

Williams — now 61 and a fifth-­generation Floridian — established an independent risk management and compliance unit to enhance SBA controls. He built up the alternative-­investment portfolio, adding hedge funds and more than doubling private equity, and created a global equity portfolio. Last year the SBA conducted a “Valuing the Vote” study, analyzing the impact the agency’s proxy voting decisions had on director elections.

Since 2012 the SBA has had the lowest all-in costs among its peers, according to Toronto-­based consulting firm CEM Benchmarking. For the 12 months ended December 31, 2015, the now-$175 billion SBA had a return of 1.48 percent, versus a median performance of 0.54 percent for public funds with $5 billion-­plus in assets in the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service.

Williams originally headed the SBA from 1991 to 1996 before moving to New York to work as CEO of Schroder Capital Management. The secret to his success at the SBA? “The art is staying true to fiduciary principles, investing prudently and earning the trust of those many constituencies every day,” he says.

Return to the 2016 U.S. Money Masters.

Follow Frances Denmark on Twitter at @francesdenmark.

  The 2016 U.S. Money Masters Click below to view profiles.
Small Endowment
John Alexander Jr.
Clemson University large public pension
Ashbel Williams Jr.
Florida State Board of Administration large corporate pension
Kathleen Gallagher
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Ford Motor Co. Foundation
Denise Strack
Gordon and Betty
Moore Foundation
 
manager lifetime achievement
David Booth
Dimensional Fund Advisors Small Public Pension
Elizabeth Crisafi
San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System Health System
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Mount Sinai Health System Large Endowment
Sally Staley
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Small Corporate Pension
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