Turnover At Pensions Contributes To Fundraising Lull

Despite high unemployment, some limited partners still seem to be having trouble filling top positions, including private equity posts.

Several important pension fund and foundation posts were filled in the past year, including those in Connecticut and New York (see accompanying table). But at least seven top positions remain open, some of them having been vacant for quite a while, including senior private equity manager at Harvard Management Co., a position once held by Kevin Tunick, who left in March 2008. The post of director of private equity at New York State Common Retirement Fund, vacated by Nick Smirensky in 2008, is also still up for grabs. A spokesperson said there was no update at this time regarding the search.

The turnover couldn’t come at a worse time for a buyout market that appears ready to hit the fundraising trail in earnest. Open posts often translate into a slowdown in commitments to limited partnerships, since investors don’t like to make high-risk investments without thorough due diligence. And the spigot doesn’t necessarily get turned all the way open again once the post is filled. Even long-time general partners of an institutional investor have to introduce themselves to the new investment officers, develop relationships, and convince them that they’re worth committing money to.

The State Universities Retirement System of Illinois is still looking for an executive director and chief executive officer to replace Dan Slack, who resigned in 2008 to become chief executive of the Fire and Police Pension Association of Colorado. In November, Interim Executive Director Judith Parker told Buyouts that candidates selected by the search subcommittee would be interviewed by the full board in early December and an offer of employment should follow shortly thereafter. In January, however, Parker said the search had been reopened, and the trustees are continuing to review applicant resumes.

Another big vacancy is the director of the private equity program for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, available since Real Desrochers retired one year ago. The search is ongoing with nothing to report, said a CalSTRS spokesperson.

The role of principal investment officer of private equity at Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds has been unoccupied since Jason Price resigned in March 2009. A spokesperson said that the LP is in the process of interviewing candidates to replace him. The state has also interviewed candidates for the principal investment officer position for alternatives, which includes absolute return strategies, real assets and opportunistic investments. This position would also oversee private equity investment activity, said the spokesperson.

In August, James Clarke left his position as director of private investments at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. A spokesperson for the foundation said that there are no plans to replace him. In January, Clarke became senior portfolio manager at a start-up consulting firm, Fiduciary Research & Consulting, where he oversees the private equity and real estate portfolio of the firm’s first client—a defined-benefit, corporate pension plan.

In November, North Carolina launched a search for a chief investment officer for the Department of State Treasurer. Korn/Ferry International is conducting the search, which likely will take three to four months. State Treasurer Janet Cowell terminated the employment of CIO Patricia Gerrick in late August and subsequently announced several reforms at the North Carolina Retirement Systems designed to increase transparency and strengthen oversight.

Also in November, the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association began its search for a new CIO to fill the position vacated by Robert Gish, who retired in late October.