Marie Pillai discovered her love of global pension asset management during the last five years of her 16-year run at Procter & Gamble Co., after rotating through a range of financial leadership roles at the consumer products giant. With her path set, in 2003 she joined Siemens as CIO for the German conglomerates U.S. businesses. In 2009 it was on to General Mills, with a now$5.6 billion defined benefit plan and a $3.4 billion defined contribution plan. Pillai, who had seen the effects of volatility on corporate financials, has taken a much greater liability focus than her predecessors at Minneapolis-based General Mills. As they say, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, explains Pillai, who moved to the U.S. in the 1970s from her native India, earning a masters degree in economics at Temple University and an MBA in finance and marketing from Case Western Reserve University. The financial crisis was a veritable baptism by fire when it came to learning about pension accounting. The CIO has taken a bottom-up, value-oriented investment approach that includes a total of 15 percent in real estate and energy companies, a 10 percent reduction in public equity and fewer alternatives like hedge funds or commodities. The 2013 closure of General Mills pension fund to new hires meant that Pillai, who has three investment professionals on staff, needed to beef up the company 401(k) plan with financial advice and lifetime annuities. The defined benefit plan earned an 11.8 percent annualized return over the five years ended December 31, 2014.
The 2015 U.S. Investment Management AwardsClick to View Profile