As part of Pensions & Investments Face to Face interview series, Angela Miller-May of the $49 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund sat down to discuss geopolitical risks, ESG investing, her outlook for a recession in the U.S. and her personal journey to the CIO job. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity, conciseness and style.
Part 2: Illinois Municipal's Angela Miller-May on her journey to CIO as a woman of color
A: I feel we've already been through a mild recession and we were so distracted we didn't notice. In 2022, and start of 2023, it's been sector by sector. Real estate, then private equity managers not exiting because valuations have been too high. The definition of when we think we're in two quarters below a percentage, that's happened several times.
I don't foresee the recession as we may think about it. We will experience this volatile, unpredictable type of market for some time until things settle down and we're out of inflation spikes. Over the next year, this is what we'll experience. It's recession-like.
A: Mostly because we're a global investor. We have exposure to countries outside the U.S., whether China or other markets. We have to look at these exposures now as risk. Do we look at a portfolio ex-China? Or because China the next largest economy we keep some (in the portfolio)? It's risky for us to hold assets abroad. We look for other emerging countries to invest in, whether Latin America, Africa. We think about how exposed those countries are to China or Russia or where conflicts are happening.
The China-Taiwan issue: What does that mean? I've been researching Japan and India. Maybe we invest there. But it is something we think about from an investment point of view and macroeconomic point of view.Early on, supply shocks contributed to inflation, especially to food coming out of Ukraine, oil out of Russia, to semiconductors. It's a concern and something we pay more attention to. We don't see a clear direction for the U.S. based on our own issues and problems. There's definitely a split right now, based on what you believe, who you think should run the country. All of it we consider.
A: If you ask, anybody will define it differently. For us, it really is a way to mitigate risk and create value. We don't invest in ESG funds, but we expect our managers to look at it. For example, is this counterparty good for their loan? It runs through every asset class, thinking about risks around labor, the environment. We ask all our managers what they think about, what's their policy, how's that policy material.
At this point there are returns to be gained from both traditional energy and renewables. I'm going to invest in both. It's going to take some time and maybe I won't be here to see it, where we all think about sustainability of the Earth itself. But at this point, it's going to take time to get to renewable energy. My job is to make sure we have cash to pay pensioners; however I get there I get there. I understand the divisiveness around anti-ESG.We're not asked to divest from anything by our legislators. We have the freedom to do our jobs and leave politics out of the investments.
A: I realized I'm enough. One of the things I had going for me is that I'm resilient and I want to learn. Step by step, as a portfolio manager, director of investments, I always persisted in understanding what I needed to learn. That's helped me to gain the confidence I needed to be a CIO and get to the point where I didn't feel like, as a woman of color, I had to prove myself. That speaks to thinking I am enough, I know enough, I bring value. And then thinking about the things I juggle day to day.
I came up with the Five Fs during the pandemic. I was at home, losing it, during COVID. The UPS man didn't want to talk to me anymore!
It started with Focus. Focus on where I wanted to be, what my goals are and how to get there. I wasn't spending enough time with family and friends. I tried to balance and not be stressed out every minute of the day.
Sometimes I don't sleep because I'm thinking about what we can improve, how we can counter the negatives and risk in the portfolio. But focus, family, friends.
All of the things that have happened to me. Being laid off during the financial crisis, being willing to start an entry-level job and work my way up. It's all about faith, and having faith in God and have him direct my steps. I'm sitting in a position today I never could have imagined. I would have undercut it. I'm so blessed. Faith is a part of it.And sitting in that room, I needed a little fitness! I throw that in, too. What is having a lot but not being healthy enough to enjoy it? I try to walk every day, and center myself. Am I doing the things I need to do to balance my self, make myself healthier . So I can be of service to IMRF, my family, my friends.
A: Still today, when I walk in the room, I can be the only woman of color. I don't mind being the first, but it's my responsibility in the industry to make a path for others. So I'm not the last. I don't want to look back and see, five, 10 years from now, every senior role is in the hands of a man. Or not diverse.
Being a Black CIO woman who has ascended to this role to make sure there are others and they have the opportunity to do the job. It's a great industry, we don't market it enough. It's not as glamorous as being an influencer, some of the things our young women think about today. It's a job where you have a mission and a role to aspire to.
A: I work with WIP, Women Investment Professionals. It's hard. This industry can be hard. This Generation Z and Millennials, they don't do hard very well! Instead, they say, is this the experience I want.
The Gen X'ers, we're about sacrifice for the next generation. It's hard when they get to the ceiling to create a career path they can see and grow. But that's something we have to do.
When we interview, I make sure it's a diverse panel, a woman, a minority, so they can see there's a path here.
We created an internship; we ask managers around their recruiting, promotions, retention of minorities and women. We had to examine what we do here. Create diversity at the entry level, the internships, and at the mid-level.
If I leave, there should be someone to promote from within. And that's on me, to make sure that happens. That's on them, to make the decision. We have a good culture here; we strive for organizational excellence and diversity is a part of that.