Williams, who has since joined J.P. Morgan Asset Management as vice chairman – asset management, retired from the SBA on Sept. 30, 2021, and it took until January of this year for Florida's cabinet — which is chaired by Gov. Ron DeSantis and consists of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson — to approve a search for a new executive director.
At the time, DeSantis said there would be a 30-day application window.
The listing on the cabinet's bare-bones website at first lacked any description of the position, but after a week it included two brief paragraphs outlining the duties of the top investment management position overseeing the sixth-largest public pension asset pool in the country.
Robert Tornillo, director of cabinet affairs, said DeSantis' office is handling the search. Repeated attempts by Pensions & Investments to contact personnel at the governor's office for further information remain unsuccessful.
Whoever does take the mantle of executive director of one of the country's largest asset owners has to contend with a charged political atmosphere.
The SBA oversees $241.4 billion in state assets, including the $188.8 billion Florida Retirement System. All three trustees of the SBA are elected officials: DeSantis (as chairman), Patronis and Moody.
Now a GOP candidate for president in 2024, DeSantis has fought a war of words against what he calls "woke" investing, with particular ire reserved for BlackRock, the world's largest money manager.
Since the announcement in January, no mention of the executive director search has taken place in their meetings.
At the trustees' brief Oct. 25 meeting, there also no mention of the search. DeSantis called into the meeting remotely along with his two fellow trustees for a meeting that lasted less than 20 minutes.
The slow-motion succession process currently in place stands in sharp contrast to the one that occurred the last time the SBA position was vacant.
In December 2007, Coleman Stipanovich resigned as executive director of the board, and the board hired executive search firm Hudepohl & Associates in January to assist with recruitment, the search formally launched the week of Feb. 4 and was completed in July when Williams was offered the position.
Williams had previously been the board's executive director from 1991 to 1996.
Along with launching the search for a permanent executive director in January, DeSantis and the other trustees reaffirmed Lamar Taylor as the SBA's interim executive director and chief investment officer.
Taylor, an attorney and accountant who has been a long-time employee of the State Board of Administration, was the organization's chief operating and financial officer when he was named interim executive director and CIO effective Sept. 30, 2021.
During his entire two-year tenure, Taylor has been ineligible for incentive compensation for which he would otherwise be eligible if he had been named to the permanent position.
The SBA's investment advisory council finally recommended he be made eligible, and trustees approved the recommendation at its Oct. 25 meeting. Williams could not be immediately reached for comment.