NEW YORK -- William F. Heitman has assumed responsibility for Bell Atlantic Corp.'s $51 billion in retirement assets, following the surprise ouster of Candace Cox.
Ms. Cox, formerly president and chief investment officer of Bell Atlantic Management Co., was terminated effective May 1. She had reported to Mr. Heitman, vice president of asset management for Bell Atlantic.
Ms. Cox assumed the Bell Atlantic Management job last August, when the merger of Bell Atlantic and NYNEX Corp. closed. She had been acting president of NYNEX Asset Management Co. since late 1995.
David Frail, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, said Mr. Heitman would assume Ms. Cox's duties, as well as those of Thomas Cowhey, former president of Bell Atlantic Credit Co. Mr. Cowhey also had reported to Mr. Heitman and was terminated as part of a corporate restructuring.
Mr. Cowhey had overseen Bell Atlantic Asset Management before the merger, but lost out on the job at the merged company to Ms. Cox.
Ms. Cox was traveling in Ireland last week, and could not be reached for comment. Phone calls to Mr. Cowhey were not returned.
"Those two companies are in the business unit that Mr. Heitman heads," said Mr. Frail. "Mr. Heitman will fulfill all of Mr. Cowhey's and Ms. Cox's duties."
Mr. Heitman, who has worked at Bell Atlantic and NYNEX for 27 years, previously served as president of NYNEX Asset Management Co., the job Ms. Cox held before the merger. He also once held Mr. Cowhey's job at Bell Atlantic Credit.
Mr. Heitman declined to be interviewed about his plans for the pension fund.
"Candace was just stunned when she received the news they were eliminating her job," said Richard Koppes, a friend and corporate governance attorney at Jones Day Reavis & Pogue, Sacramento, who happened to be visiting her early in April, when she was told she'd been terminated.
"They kept her on in a tough year until she merged the two plans, and then they eliminated her job. They decided her boss could do it," Mr. Koppes said.
He added that Bell Atlantic gave her a severance package, which included an office and outplacement. She was not bitter about it, but philosophical and hoping for the best, he said.
Mr. Koppes observed Ms. Cox had a good record at NYNEX, and that the termination was not a reflection of her abilities.
The firings were part of Bell Atlantic's goal to eliminate 3,000 management positions throughout the company by the end of 1999, according to Mr. Frail. He said no other positions had been eliminated at either the asset management company or the credit company, but that so far 500 management jobs had been cut companywide.
A source familiar with the situation said employees at the asset management company nevertheless were concerned about their futures, and no one knew when or if more pink slips would be handed out.
The source also said costs of the pension operation were charged back to the pension fund, and eliminating Ms. Cox's salary would have no immediate effect on Bell Atlantic's bottom line. It might later, however, because the company might save on the amount it contributes to the pension fund, said the source.
Prior to her job at NYNEX, Ms. Cox was principal investment officer at the New York City Comptroller's office, where her division was responsible for evaluating investments and developing strategy in all asset classes for $46 billion in pension fund assets.
When she became president of Bell Atlantic Asset Management, she helped ease the transition between the NYNEX and Bell Atlantic pension funds by using a comprehensive futures strategy. In addition, Ms. Cox developed a cash equitization strategy, overlaying actively managed accounts with S&P futures so all dividends were converted into futures contracts, allowing the pension fund to remain fully invested at all times.
Under her tenure, about 15% to 20% of defined benefit assets were internally managed. Three years ago, NYNEX began internally managing some of its defined contribution plans as well, as a way to reduce costs.
In an interview late last year, Ms. Cox said she was trying to sort out the framework for the combined assets and making decisions about investment managers. She said then that her plan was to hire or fire as many managers as necessary for cost synergies.
At that time, NYNEX had 33 outside managers for its defined benefit plan and Bell Atlantic, 25. The staff at the asset management division numbered 30.
Mr. Frail said the two defined benefit plans are fully integrated and the merger of the two defined contribution plans is expected to be completed by July.
He added that executives at the pension fund will be reviewing their asset managers, and probably then will cut back on some as part of their integration of the two plans.