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Allocators Named Their Elite Peers. Here They Are.

Cornell, Texas Teachers, and two Canadian giants are among this year’s finalists for the Allocators’ Choice Awards.

Institutional Investor is pleased to announce the finalists for the third annual Allocators’ Choice Awards.

Finalists were chosen based on nominations submitted over the summer and vetted by Institutional Investor’s editorial team. Starting this week, asset allocators will cast ballots for the ultimate winners, to be crowned on December 3, 2019, at dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City. 

The awards dinner will follow the Masterclass — an afternoon of discussion among an exclusive group of asset allocators and managers, where attendees will share, debate, and tackle institutional investing’s intractable problems.

Peer voting will occur online, and is open to in-house investment staff members of pension funds, endowments, foundations, sovereign wealth funds, and family offices worldwide. Many will receive an email shortly with their exclusive voting code. To request a ballot, please contact allocatorschoice@institutionalinvestor.com. Voting closes Monday, September 30.

Click here to see the categories and last year’s winners.

Allocators, request an invitation now to the Masterclass and dinner.


The Finalists


Advocate of the Year

Christopher Ailman, CIO at California State Teachers’ Retirement System

“Turn on CNBC” and you’ll “see Chris Ailman — but not talking like a day trader.” Instead, you’ll find the popular CIO opining, just as he does with his board, on topics such as “climate change, something he’s really, really passionate about,” and “diversity — also immensely important to him. He created the ‘Beyond Talk’ series. He’s been to so many conferences where it’s just talk, and then you go back to the office and do nothing. ‘Beyond Talk’ brings together peers in the industry to focus on the tangible, and then go back and execute.” More broadly, Ailman is “part of the old crew of CIOs in the pension fund industry; you’re spot on as seeing him as the CIO, the industry spokesperson. He’s been able to communicate; he’s so great at it. And he leads by example. At CalSTRS, he’s built an incredible culture. It’s more than managing money — it’s managing people.”

Robin Diamonte, CIO at United Technologies Corp.

“Robin is tireless. Such a hard worker, but she makes it pleasant. There is always a joke, a laugh, a way to lighten it up.” Such words of praise apply equally to her work with industry group the Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets (CIEBA) and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which she advised from 2013 until earlier this year. “We are all better off because of initiatives that she’s spearheaded within CIEBA. There are hard topics that she wasn’t afraid to address. An example: the changing nature of the defined benefit world, and recognizing how our world changed after the Pension Protection Act. We were more risky to our companies, and thus we needed to change our investment programs. She took charge of the thinking around that, and she took action. She’s not afraid to move.”

Christie Hamilton, Investment Director at Children’s Health

Unlike many others in the risk-conscious community of institutional allocating, Christie Hamilton didn’t wait for C-suite security to advocate. Those who know her as the “hardworking deputy” of a little Texas fund might not realize she’s also a “hugely influential figure” online. @ROIChristie schools her 13,000-person Twitter audience on “key academic research relating to modern portfolio mgmt — the foundation of everything we do,” and on mentors/mentorship (“with a brief sidebar on #metoo concerns”). Hamilton goes toe-to-toe with managers by day (“IRL,” as the #fintwit kids call it) and via social media, where she’s a favorite sparring partner of Cliff Asness. But her mission is the same: delivering for the institution, and helping others learn to do it too.

David Holmgren, CIO at Hartford HealthCare

“Going to go all literary: David is the Robert Frost of CIOs. He is always challenging himself to take the road not taken, to see things differently, and to not be afraid to be a first mover. He challenges all of us to seek alpha with fierce veracity.” A dedicated and lively member of the allocator community, Holmgren is “deeply generous” with his time, ideas, and network. Much of his advocacy takes place on the interpersonal level: He has an uncanny ability to “put a word in” when and where a contact needs it most. “With David, it’s like we’re family.”

Charles Van Vleet, Assistant Treasurer and CIO at Textron

The outspoken and “dapper” CIO “works on creating an investment community in Providence, Rhode Island, strengthening CIEBA [the Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets]” — corporate pensions’ highly engaged professional organization/social club — and “supporting charities.” Corporate pension funds’ “frozen, mostly immunized” portfolios offer fewer learning opportunities for young allocators — but Van Vleet pays “rigorous attention” to equipping the likes of Textron director Erik Carleton for a future beyond long bonds.

Matt Whineray, CEO at New Zealand Superannuation Fund

Following the devastating and livestreamed terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand’s sovereign fund responded with more than thoughts and prayers. CEO Matt Whineray spurred a movement. He publicly called out Facebook, Alphabet, and Twitter, as a major shareholder and as a citizen: “In transmitting the Christchurch terrorist attacks on their platforms, these companies betrayed their users and society.” NZ Super joined “a collaborative international initiative of major investors representing more than US$1 trillion” to pressure social media giants to do better. “By raising our voice as shareholders, we are stating that the situation as it stands is not acceptable.” When $1 trillion talks, companies listen.  

Ash Williams, Executive Director and CIO at Florida State Board of Administration

As chair of the Council of Institutional Investors, Florida’s long-time pension CIO is “deeply committed to good corporate governance and investor protection.” Williams has been a member of the CII board since 2016, having previously served on its executive committee in the mid-1990s. In recent years, the group has advocated for more transparency around executive pay and spoken out against dual-class share structures, which give certain investors more voting power than others.


Change Maker of the Year

Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund (Angela Miller-May, CIO)

Over the last 20 years, CTPF has invested 44 percent of its total assets with firms owned by minorities, women, or people with disabilities. Under CIO Angela Miller-May — who in June testified at a congressional hearing on diversity in asset management — the $10.8 billion pension fund is now looking beyond its own portfolio and promoting stronger inclusion efforts across the asset management industry. “Industry-wide change happens slowly, but CTPF has set a standard for others to follow and has built a model that can be used nationwide to help create opportunity, foster diversity, and boost [minority, women-owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises] investing.”

Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (Jim Keohane, President and CEO)

HOOPP hasn’t been a change maker just this past year. It’s been a change maker for almost 20: Following the dot-com bubble, then-CIO Jim Keohane went aggressively in the direction of liability-driven investing, uncommon then and now for a Canadian pension of such size (the fund ended 2018 with about $60 billion). The move helped the fund survive the 2008 crisis better than its peers, and led to the pension plan being — wait for it — 121 percent funded at the end of 2018. All this resulted in Keohane being labeled “the smartest guy in the room” by Canada’s Financial Post — no small compliment in a country boasting some of the world’s best pension talent.

Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (James Nolan, Acting CIO; Terri Sanchez, Executive Director; Phil Greenberg, MD, Real Estate)

This $27 billion public fund aggressively built out an alternative asset class portfolio . . . and it wasn’t private equity. “The real estate team went from no investments three years ago to restructuring the entire portfolio through separate accounts and new partnerships while taking advantage of strategic asset locations to extract unseen value.” Much credit must go to its recently-departed former CIO Bryan Lewis (now running the U.S. Steel pension), who completely restructured the team and portfolio. Struggling with what most public fund CIOs grapple with, he was able to come up with innovative ways to outperform the benchmark with a lean team, as well as convince people to move to Harrisburg, PA”  no small feat in the financial world. 

Railpen Investments (Richard Williams, CIO; Michelle Ostermann, Chief Fiduciary Officer) 

“She’s not just shaking up Railpen. She’s shaking up all of U.K. pensions.” She is Michelle Ostermann, the Canadian public fund executive who took a top job at the £28 billion railway pension in January. Railpen lured her from British Columbia Investment Management Corp., and peers and U.K. industry insiders say she’s brought “novel ideas,” “Canadian-style management,” and deep experience to Railpen — and that’s reverberating beyond its walls. Railpen has an extremely tough task of managing funds for 144 different schemes. It is developing a “first of its kind” structure to make sure clients get the “optimal” and fit-for-purpose strategies for their members. With another major U.K. collected pension vehicle struggling (London CIV), “Railpen’s making the case that it can work.” So, no pressure.  


Investment Committee / Board of the Year

Cornell University (Girish Reddy, Chair; Former Co-CEO at Paamco Prisma)

Serving on the investment committee of a top-tier university is a “badge of honor” that some “treat like a status symbol.” Not at Cornell, which has pulled off a stunning turnaround thanks to “very strategic” and “long-game” decisions by its members, such as moving the investment office from Ithaca to Manhattan and asking Ken Miranda, then director of the International Monetary Fund's investment office, to serve on the committee, even though he isn’t a Cornellian. A few years later, they hired Miranda as CIO. Investment chair Girish Reddy — former co-CEO of Paamco Prisma — “is fantastic: smart, respectful,” and protective of the investment team’s domain. The committee’s expertise runs deep: Vice chair Mary J. Miller served as deputy secretary of the Treasury under President Obama. “Governance is the hardest thing to fix,” and this Ivy League school did it from within. 

State of Wisconsin Investment Board (David Stein, Chair; Executive Vice President at Associated Banc-Corp)

It’s easy to take for granted that Wisconsin’s $110 billion retirement fund has escaped the strictures and political gamesmanship of most U.S. public pensions. But SWIB’s freedom to operate as an asset management organization — not a government bureaucracy — was a choice. An extremely profitable one, as it turns out. In 2005, the trustees “set out on a mission to transform the agency into a premier asset management firm by reinvigorating internal management and modernizing the investment organization.” They hired David Villa, and later empowered him as CIO, executive director, and chair of the investment committee, “which is composed of staff. Also, staff is empowered to implement the specific investment decisions.” During the financial crisis, trustees blocked and tackled for the investment team. And they pay for performance. Villa made $800,000 in 2018, and a senior portfolio manager took in the biggest bonus at $399,405. “By creating and maintaining a competitive compensation program, SWIB has become the home to top talent.” As one staffer put it, “I have the best job.”

Teacher Retirement System of Texas (Jarvis Hollingsworth, Chair; General Counsel at Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors) 

Texas Teachers’ board and investment leadership have had a huge couple of years, “successfully engaging with the legislature” and planning far into the horizon for the organization’s future. Everything’s bigger in Texas — and unlike many public funds, this one is set to supersize: Trustees last year launched the “Building the Fleet” program “aimed at maximizing efficiencies as TRS increases in size.” The program comprises a slate of strategies to ensure access to talent and profits when TRS tips the scale. More so than any other U.S. public pension, TRS is attempting “the Canadian model” lite, which any Canuck will say requires “governance first.” Then comes the empire. TRS went across the pond already, and now it’s eyeing further east. “The Singapore office plan mirrors the successful model of TRS’s London office, which opened in 2015 with strong board support and allowed TRS to be the first U.S pension to create such an international presence.”


Partnership of the Year

Brown University and Owl Rock Capital Partners

The Ivy League endowment made a savvy play in its “strategic seeding of Owl Rock’s BDC, which went public last month.” Institutions have been wary of business development company, or BDC, lending vehicles, since many of them are decidedly uninstitutional in quality and fee terms. But Owl Rock — which Brown University backed with its own credibility and cash — is “one of the grown-ups in a big room.” “Owl Rock’s success has much to do with the alignment of interests and revisions to its fee structure.” And Brown’s to do with its underwriting.   

Government Pension Investment Fund and Sony Computer Science Laboratories

Almost two years ago, Japan’s nearly $1.5 trillion pension fund announced a new strategic partnership — not with an asset manager or another allocator, but with a major tech conglomerate. The team-up between GPIF and Sony’s independent research lab has focused on how institutional investors can harness artificial intelligence to power their portfolios and operations — including, for example, using AI technology to track trading and personnel changes at GPIF’s asset managers. “This is a new worldview of strategic partnership that’s going to reshape the way asset owners acquire knowledge and technology.”

Hartford HealthCare and Eversource Energy

“Axe-throwing” — literally — was the latest “team-building exercise” for these two institutional funds. Robin Diamonte and her United Technologies Corp. staff “crashed as they wanted to join in the fun,” which can’t be common for meetings between institutional partners. This New England allocator partnership isn’t all fun and games: Hartford HealthCare’s and Eversource’s pension funds both have lean investment teams of about five people, and they collaborate on strategy, manager due diligence, and supporting causes. Eversource chief Robert DeAngelo sits on the health fund’s board. The offices get together to “review each other’s lineup” and “share top convictions,” which has resulted in lower fees. They’ve “requested bundled asset treatment” for “joint commitments to particular funds.” Together “they can punch above their weights” — or axe recalcitrant managers.

South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission and GCM Grosvenor 

RSIC has partnered with GCM Grosvenor to build a co-investment platform that will “ultimately account for around 30 to 40 percent” of the South Carolina pension’s private equity allocation. RSIC gets access to Grosvenor’s deal flow and manager relationships, while Grosvenor helps underwrite and review investments with new general partners. When announcing the strategic partnership in June, pension chief Geoffrey Berg said working with Grosvenor would “enable RSIC to efficiently and seamlessly execute co-investments and become one of the premier co-investment partners to private equity sponsors."

United Technologies Corp. and Neuberger Berman & Wellington Management 

The task was simple. “UTC gave them a mandate: 8 percent returns; do what you want; don’t worry about hedging liabilities — and be there, quickly, at any hour, when [CIO Robin Diamonte or her team] has questions” or when the pension needs “special projects” executed. Wellington’s Amy Trainor and Adam Berger and Neuberger Berman’s Erik Knutzen were tasked with running point on the partnership. For the managers, the upside was a sizable allocation from an industry-leading corporate plan, one that “waited years to do a strategic partnership. Robin learned from the master — Britt Harris — and it’s not surprising that she’s now doing it for her fund, and not surprising that it’s with global firms like Wellington and Neuberger.”


Team of the Year

AEGIS Insurance Services (Rip Reeves, CIO)

“It’s a small group” and CIO Rip Reeves “provides a great working environment where everyone is developed and recognized for their strengths and skills. He’s made it a priority to give them exposure and public recognition, never sacrificing the job at hand and bottom line.” AEGIS knows how to have fun too. Anyone who might assume insurance investors are boring hasn’t seen Reeves’ Mardi Gras outfits. 

Aflac (Eric Kirsch, CIO)

CIO Eric Kirsch built Aflac’s investment shop of about 80 people in New York City and 30 or so in Tokyo. “Not only are they very skilled at managing fixed income and other asset classes, but they’re particularly good at doing it around the liabilities.” Their operation essentially has two very large clients: Aflac Japan, managing ¥11.7 trillion (or $109 billion, hence the Tokyo team), and Aflac U.S. at $14.4 billion. “They’ve really developed into a firm within a firm. It’s got the culture and sophistication of a money manager specialist,” which is exactly what Aflac’s head honchos hoped for. “There’s a reason why asset managers trade at 17 or 18 times earnings and insurers trade at 10 times earnings.” 

Kresge Foundation (Robert Manilla, CIO)

Any recruiter will tell you that the Kresge Foundation is stacked with top investment talent. The $3.6 billion fund is known for “progressive” investments and boasts a winning track record. The all-star team is led by CIO Robert Manilla, who joined the foundation in 2005 and rose to CIO just three years later. He was said to be “thrilled” at his team’s heavy representation on Institutional Investor’s Most Wanted Allocators list: Donna Snider (No. 4 in 2019) — “she’s got the whole package” — and John Barker (No. 19), a “seasoned” investor hired out of Notre Dame’s investment office. “John earned his bragging rights.”

Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (Shawn Wischmeier, CIO)

“Just an incredible team! All the way down to their three rock-star interns.” Recruiters also believe that a sure sign of good leadership is when employees follow their boss from one job to the next. CIO Shawn Wischmeier has achieved just that: Deputy CIO Mike Ruetz moved with Wischmeier from the North Carolina Retirement Systems to the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. “Always a good sign,” as one recruiter said — as are the other talented investors the affable Wischmeier has brought to Minnesota. Another good sign: Ruetz leapt up II’s Most Wanted Allocators list this year, from No. 39 to 28, based on rave reviews.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Jason Klein, SVP and CIO)

Despite a quiet demeanor, CIO Jason Klein will often get most of the attention — he was, after all, voted CIO of the Year at the inaugural Allocator Choice Awards in 2017. But managers who work with him at Memorial Sloan Kettering, as well as other industry observers, speak fondly of Klein’s “deep bench” and “happiness in empowering staff.” As one said, “They are truly in it for the mission.”

Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (Satish Rai, CIO)

“OMERS has a great reputation.” As one recruiter put it, “If we can get someone from OMERS, we are very interested. Clients respect the Canadians.” The “diverse” team’s returns and paychecks inspire envy in some American public fund counterparts, and ambition in others. “They are in another league.” This “huge” organization is “basically an elite asset management firm — but the profits go to public pensions.” Indeed, CIO Satish Rai was the head of TD Asset Management and commands “major respect” internally and externally, as do many others on the team. OMERS’ hedge fund chief, for example, was recently hired away by another Canadian fund and empowered with a much broader mandate. 

Rice Management Co. (Allison Thacker, President and CIO)

Rice’s “tight-knit” endowment team, assembled under “unassuming but hugely competent” CIO Allison Thacker, is complimented for its effective work outside of the spotlight. Part of this is due to location, but it’s also by design: Spotlights don’t drive returns; processes, decisions, and talent do. To foster this culture, Rice hosts frequent offsites, where Thacker leads the 20-odd team members through a multiday deep-dive into everything from novel strategies to how to tell stories — “because to get the attention of the investment decision makers, younger staff need to learn to tell investments as stories.”

Virginia Retirement System (Ronald Schmitz, CIO)

CIO Ronald Schmitz “has surrounded himself with a group that is really brilliant.” Managing directors K.C. Howell (private markets) and J.T. Grier (internal asset management) “could easily be CIOs.” The same goes for risk chief Ross Kasarda “once he has a few more years under his belt.” (Kasarda was an intern at VRS less than 15 years ago.) More plaudits go to strategy director Kristina Koutrakos. Virginia’s $80 billion state fund has attracted and kept “people of that caliber” due to the work of one woman, primarily: Vice chair Diana Cantor secured “industry-competitive comp” from the legislature about ten years ago, and now VRS “can hire stars.” Haven’t heard much from VRS? “That team is very quiet. They don’t feel the need to talk about themselves.”


Turnaround of the Year

California Institute of Technology (Scott Richland, CIO)

Caltech was once “a perennial bottom-decile performer” endowment but has moved into the “top decile” by some measures. This dramatic performance improvement under CIO Scott Richland means the now-$2.9 billion fund is paying out nearly a third more to support Caltech’s mission, “directly reducing the cost of attendance for over 90 percent” of students. “Beyond taking the lead on one-off, creative, value-add transactions, Scott has completely overhauled risk management. Meanwhile, he has had zero voluntary turnover on his team.”

Cornell University (Kenneth Miranda, CIO)

Here’s a sampling of the inside view on Cornell, once a laggard of the Ivy League. “The entire culture has changed.” “I told the recruiter after my interview with Ken that even if the job didn’t work out, I’m so happy I met him. I got so much out of our conversation.” “The divisions used to be really siloed — now we’re all part of the same team.” Cornell’s striking rise under CIO Ken Miranda goes deeper than a new Manhattan office, “esprit de corps,” and staff karaoke outings. Here’s the whole story of a leader, a legendary institution, and a “frankly amazing” turnaround.

CVS Health Corp. (Edward J. Ludwig, Chair, Investment and Finance Committee)

When pharmacy giant CVS Health Corp. bought insurer Aetna, it gained institutional investment chops in the bargain. Aetna “has brought investment professionals in,” revamping the CVS 401(k) plan. “Huge difference.” CVS had about $10 billion in its defined contribution and “employee stock ownership plans,” whereas Aetna also had a legacy defined benefit plan, and all the attendant institutional-grade expertise. Its tight 401(k) menu reflected this, with less than a dozen options plus white-labeled target-date funds. CVS’s menu “looked a bit more like a CVS receipt.” But since the tie-up, it has “switched up some managers” and changed record keepers to “top-tier” provider Vanguard.

Orange County Employees Retirement System (Molly Murphy, CIO)

OCERS’ prior CIO was one of the most “colorful” figures in the public pension world and gave the suburban fund a reputation as being “unfriendly to work with.” In 2016, incoming CIO Molly Murphy brought in her “stellar reputation” from leading Mercy Health in Cincinnati. She’s built a “diverse, hungry, talented” team in SoCal and “professionalized” everything from hiring to board meetings to RFPs. “Molly is an all-time-great boss. No BS.” 

University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Co. (Britt Harris, President, CEO, and CIO)

In 2017, Britt Harris shocked the Austin, Texas, investment crowd — as well as the broader American public pension community — when he left Texas Teachers and moved across town to the University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Co. “Total alignment is our rallying theme,” he told Institutional Investor nine months into his tenure. In practice, this meant “breaking down internal silos” and instituting new fee models that would reward asset managers for performance. “Britt’s larger than life, but he’s pioneered so many aggressive changes to this industry,” one peer noted, citing strategic partnerships and the 1-or-30 fee model, among other examples. “It was only a matter of time before he brought all those to bear at UTIMCO.”


CIO of the Year

Fadi BouSamra, Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County

“Fadi BouSamra is the best in our industry, and his board has empowered him to build a great portfolio. Kudos!” The CIO of Nashville’s nimble $3 billion public fund proves that big checks aren’t necessary for private equity success. His “opportunistic” fund has shot the lights out with “top 1 percentile performance relative to peer universe for one through seven years.” BouSamra’s “not afraid” to get outside of his targeted allocations, ending March with a private equity book that’s half again the policy size and wildly better performing. And Metro’s board is tenacious enough to allow it. Having “best-in-class risk management” and a 97 percent funded status probably helps. 

Derek Brodersen, Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund Board

Alberta has the Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo), a central asset management group, to run its public pension and other provincial assets. But it also has an exception. “Alberta Teachers’ was too good — it wouldn’t have made sense” to shut down the “overachieving” team when AIMCo launched. Brodersen has spent nearly his whole career at ATRF, serving as CIO since 2008 and presiding over “tremendous growth” since then: C$16.6 billion ($12.6 billion) ATRF returned 8.1 percent annualized over the past four years; C$108 billion AIMCo made 6.6 percent annualized. Brodersen’s core innovation is “Project Whiteboard: Assume we held C$16.6 billion in cash,” not a built-out portfolio. “Then we asked ourselves how we would best construct a portfolio from scratch to invest that C$16.6 billion, given the profile of our liabilities.” Then they started implementing.  

Douglas Brown, Exelon Corp. 

“He’s awesome. Extremely personable, always willing to help with benchmarking, passionate — but not crazy — and so even-keeled.” That’s just some of the praise heaped on the industry veteran and Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets (CIEBA, the corporate fund gang’s industry group) leader. More: “A great developer of CIOs. People love working for him. His management of CIEBA, where you have 100 CIOs with type-A personalities, is amazing. Investment-wise, he’s great. He embraced LDI [liability-driven investing] early, even though he’s a great investor. He didn’t do it because he had to, but because it’s the right thing. His ego didn’t get in the way. Great person, manager, investor, and CIO. He’s got it all.”

Sanjay Chawla, FM Global

Chawla “assumed dual insurance and pension” CIO roles in March of 2018, and promptly instituted an “asset allocation study.” He took equity down “at exactly the right time,” managing through the late-year volatility. He’s “achieved greater diversification” through alternative allocations, and “most importantly, he was able to change the mindset of the team, have everyone getting along to do their job, and is in the process of building out his team. He manages a high-profile board, has good initial performance, and has good people.”

Charles Kennedy, Carnegie Mellon University

“I just had meetings in Pennsylvania with eight different institutional allocators and they all mentioned how great Chuck is.” Carnegie Mellon University’s president surely feels the same about his CIO, Charles Kennedy. For five years running, the endowment portfolio has been able to cover more of Carnegie Mellon’s budget than the year before, from “4.5 percent in fiscal year 2013” to “6.8 percent in fiscal year 2018.” Kennedy’s contributions to higher education aren’t only in dollars. Before taking over as Carnegie Mellon’s CIO in 2010, he was teacher of the year at the University of Pittsburgh’s business school. 

Eric Kirsch, Aflac 

Kirsch was the global boss of Goldman Sachs’s $70 billion insurance asset management business until Aflac snapped him up in 2011 as CIO, promoting him twice since then. He’s won vocal loyalty and a loose rein from Aflac corporate — indeed, it’s a rare CFO-CIO relationship where they actually seem to like each other. Under Kirsch, the 130-person investment operation, split between Tokyo and New York, has “really developed into a firm within a firm. It’s got the culture and sophistication of a money manager specialist,” which is exactly what Aflac’s head honchos hoped for. “There’s a reason why asset managers trade at 17 or 18 times earnings and insurers trade at 10 times earnings.” 

Kim Lew, Carnegie Corp. of New York

“I knew Carnegie was a strong performer — but I didn’t know it was that good.” Lew’s ten-year returns at the $3.5 billion fund are just a whisker behind David Swensen’s. That’s 220 basis points of alpha annually over Carnegie’s policy benchmark, and nearly 300 on top of the peer median. She might not brag; she doesn’t have to. “Almost anyone on Kim’s team could be CIO one day.” That ringing endorsement of the CIO’s work reflects Lew’s “preternatural” dedication to talent management and deep intuition as to what team Carnegie needs at any point. She’s “loved and admired” in the tight community of New York City CIOs — most of all, perhaps, by Meredith Jenkins, her one-time co-CIO at Carnegie.    

Ana Marshall, Hewlett Foundation

“Ana Marshall does the work. She’s not the kind of CIO who sits back and manages” or cruises the conference circuit. For Marshall, the CIO duties of interfacing with the board, mentorship, administration, and, yes, team management go on top of actually investing the $9.8 billion fund alongside her “super talented” team. “That’s why Hewlett’s ridiculous track record is truly her track record.” Hewlett escapes the “crazy spotlight” shone on big-name endowments like MIT, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale, yet their leaders “count Marshall as a peer.” “It’s so hard to beat her.” 

Lisa Mazzocco, University of Southern California

“Lisa has exhibited grace under pressure during a year or two filled with overwhelming institutional scandals. She has kept her team focused and motivated (and together!) in spite of everything happening at USC.” (Google it if you have more questions.) Mazzocco and her loyal team are uniquely able to buffer students from the fallout, financially at least. “They’ve risen to the challenge.” And done it scandal-free, one might add.  

Marie Pillai, General Mills

Marie Pillai’s stats as a chief investment officer speak for themselves. “Top quartile for returns, below median for risk.” General Mills’ pension plan is 102 percent funded, and union medical benefits are 160 percent covered. The “defeasing rate is less than 5 percent to meet all future benefit payments; plan is self-supporting, no new contributions expected.” She’s halved surplus volatility to less than 10 percent from 20 percent over the last decade. And the Honey Nut Cheerio on top? General Mills’ “portfolio is still quite interesting: 45 percent bonds, 15 percent private/energy/real estate, 40 percent public equity.” 

Rip Reeves, AEGIS Insurance Services

CIO Rip Reeves “provides a great working environment where everyone is developed and recognized for their strengths and skills. He’s made it a priority to give them exposure and public recognition, never sacrificing the job at hand and bottom line.” AEGIS knows how to have fun too. If you think an insurance CIO must be boring, just ask Reeves about Mardi Gras. 

Scott Richland, California Institute of Technology

In 2010, Caltech lured Scott Richland away from his “asset management and family office” background to become its CIO. Richland — praised for his “financial acumen and personal integrity” — inherited a “perennial bottom-decile performer.” He has delivered for the university, moving the now-$2.9 billion endowment into the “top decile” by some measures. This dramatic performance improvement means the endowment is paying out nearly a third more to support Caltech’s mission — “directly reducing the cost of attendance for over 90 percent” of students. “Beyond taking the lead on one-off, creative, value-add transactions, Scott has completely overhauled risk management. Meanwhile, he has had zero voluntary turnover on his team.”