With $25 billion in assets and an 8 percent allocation to absolute-return investments, the Washington-based National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust is one of the most respected and low-profile defined benefit pension investors. NRRIT owes its good reputation partly to director of absolute-return investments Barry Kaplan, who joined in 2007, after he and his family moved to the D.C. area from Chicago. Kaplan had little previous direct hedge fund experience. Having grown up in Memphis, Tennessee, he earned an accounting and finance degree from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Hired out of college by AT&T, Kaplan, now 37, completed the telecommunications giants financial leadership program. He then worked for consulting firm Duff & Phelps Corp., where he focused on business and asset valuations, before moving into asset management at Chicago-based Nuveen Investments closed-end fund business. Before joining NRRIT, however, Kaplan and some friends took a run at launching a hedge fund, so he knows how challenging it can be.