Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Oak Brook, is one of six organizations that will receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award at a ceremony at the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program's Quest for Excellence Conference in National Harbor, Md., on March 24.
Brian Collins, executive director of the $42.7 billion pension fund, on Nov. 12 received a notice of the award from U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Mr. Collins said in a telephone interview that the process of applying for the presidential award, which was established by Congress in 1987 for overall performance excellence by U.S. organizations, was a 10-year process that began under previous Executive Director Louis W. Kosiba, who retired at the end of 2016.
"In order to even qualify to apply for the Baldrige Award, you have to go through an organization in Illinois called Illinois Performance Excellence. You go through a long series of reviews and applications and over the course of time you get certified," Mr. Collins said.
"What we have seen at IMRF is that by going through this process we have immensely improved the way we do everything we do," Mr. Collins said.
In announcing IMRF's award on its website Nov. 14, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology cited the pension fund's 97% participant satisfaction rating, its 10-year annualized gross return of 9.47%, its 90% funding ratio and a Standard & Poor's "strong" rating.
Mr. Collins said the award is especially rewarding given Illinois' poor reputation regarding its public pension plans. IMRF's funding ratio is nearly 50 percentage points above the next-best-funded state plan.
"We are really thrilled that we can show people that these pension plans can work, and they can be done very economically and you can deliver a very respectable benefit and a reasonable cost if you work at it," Mr. Collins said.
The award is named after Malcolm Baldrige, who was U.S. commerce secretary beginning in 1981 until his death in 1987.