After months of searching, the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System has named its next chief investment officer.
The $71.2 billion pension fund has hired Ben Cotton, former senior managing director for the United Auto Workers Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, to replace Jim Grossman, who announced his retirement in November 2021, along with executive director Glen Grell.
The two were targeted in June 2021 by a group of board members who wanted to temporarily outsource PSERS’s investments to outsourced CIO provider Verus Investments. PSERS spent a significant portion of 2021 dealing with the fallout from internal and federal investigations, which probed an error in reporting of investment performance numbers and governance concerns. The Department of Justice’s investigation into PSERS was closed in August 2022.
PSERS said it launched its search for Grossman’s replacement in May 2022, when he officially stepped down. Hudepohl & Associates conducted the search.
Cotton is an unusual candidate for the role: his past work is in corporate pension plans, rather than at public funds.
Cotton studied leadership and learning in organizations at Vanderbilt University, according to PSERS’s announcement. He also completed a two-year doctorate program at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in December 2022.
Prior to his doctorate work, Cotton spent ten years at the United Auto Workers Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, most recently as a senior managing director. He was a founding member of the Trust’s investment team, playing a role in its growth from $40 billion at inception to $60 billion when he departed in 2019.
Prior to joining UAW, Cotton spent nine years in a number of roles at Ford Motor Company, including leading an audit team that covered Ford Credit in Europe and Asia Pacific, and working as an associate director in the pension office, his LinkedIn profile shows.
A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Cotton served from 1988 through 1992 in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, according to the announcement. Following his honorable discharge, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and held research manager and investment analyst roles.
“We spent months on a nationwide search for our next CIO,” said PSERS board chairman Chris Santa Maria, in a statement. “Ben’s military experience, combined with his corporate and international investment and finance expertise, stood out during our search and interview process.”
At PSERS, Cotton will lead 65 investment professionals, in addition to managing outside relationships with investors and consultants.
“I was drawn to this job by the board of trustees’ dedication to continuous improvement to keep the system healthy and viable for over 500,000 public school employees and retirees,” Cotton said in a statement.
Cotton presently resides in Michigan. In his new role, he will be paid $515,000 annually, in addition to a one-time $10,000 “quality assurance payment,” the announcement said. He will begin his CIO tenure on January 17.