Board room politics, increased exposure under the public eye and lower compensation than the private sector are challenges some of the largest pension funds are facing in their searches for new chief investment officers, but many CIOs in the public plan space see their job as more of a mission for participants they serve rather than paying too much attention to the outside noise.
Andrew Junkin, CIO of the $104.2 billion Virginia Retirement System, Richmond, sees purpose in his jump to public pension funds after 15 years at Wilshire Consulting, the last five of which he was president.
He said the mission of helping people retire with dignity is something he and his staff at VRS talk about very often.
"It's been everybody involved in the investment of the pension assets that really does believe in that same mission. I haven't had to convince people that this is important," he said.
Junkin said that shared sense of mission and the system's governance structure makes it a great place to work for investment professionals.
"Maybe that's not true across every public plan," said Junkin, "and listen, if you want to maximize your wealth or your annual income, the private sector's probably a better bet. But if you want to have a very interesting job that makes a difference to people, I think we've got a pretty compelling offer, and the people who agree with that are types of people who come to VRS and Rhode Island and CalPERS."
Junkin was CIO of the $10.7 billion Rhode Island Employees' Retirement System from 2020 to 2022 before joining VRS.
Mike Brakebill, CIO of the $65.2 billion Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, Nashville, joined the pension fund in 2008 from the $187.7 billion Texas Teacher Retirement System, Austin, where he had spent 13 years as an investment analyst, then portfolio manager, then director of domestic equities.
While not what he calls "super-altruistic," Brakebill said the mission of the public pension fund is important to him. Raised in Texas, both of his parents were school teachers who were participants in the Texas Teacher Retirement System, and his mother-in-law was a school teacher in California, where she was a participant in the California Teachers' Retirement System.
Brakebill said the public pension fund is an attractive place to work.
"Public pension plans are much more sophisticated investment management shops (now) with much better access to tools and people than they ever have been," he said.
Especially large funds like the California Public Employees' Retirement System, Texas Teachers and the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System "all offer super very advanced level of investment applications that you just don't see in a lot of places."
"It's both very deep and very broad, big global portfolios with massive amount of funds and every asset class imaginable or potential asset class imaginable," said Brakebill. "Just the investment challenge itself is fascinating."