Rob Feckner, who last month was elected president of the $183 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System, sees his working-class background as a real advantage. "A blue-collar worker heading a blue-collar retirement fund -- what better person to be at the helm," says Feckner, who has worked for the Napa Valley school district for 27 of his 47 years, mostly as a glazier.
Feckner, who joined CalPERS's board of administration in 1999 and has chaired the fund's investment committee, is girding for a rough year. The fund's activist shareholder agenda was criticized by corporate leaders last year. Sean Harrigan, Feckner's predecessor, who lost reelection to the board in December, says Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was behind his ouster, though Schwarzenegger denies it.
Feckner promises not to relent on shareholder issues as he faces an even more serious problem: CalPERS's long-term existence. In January the governor proposed that the state terminate defined benefit plans like CalPERS and instead allow new hires to enroll in 401(k)-style defined contribution plans beginning in July 2007.
"I still want to move forward on issues such as curbing excessive executive compensation, auditor independence and access to the proxy," says Feckner. "But quite honestly, the biggest thing now is going to be the governor's moving toward defined contribution and closing defined benefit plans. That's just huge on our agenda."