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Michael Katz of Chief Investment Officer reports that PSP Investments’ President and CEO, Neil Cunningham, will step down at the end of March 2023 after more than 19 years with the firm:

The Public Sector Pension Investment Board, one of Canada’s largest
pension investment managers with C$204.5 billion (US$160.7 billion) in
assets under management, has announced that President and CEO Neil
Cunningham plans to retire March 31, 2023. The company said it has hired
an executive search firm to find a successor.

Cunningham first
joined Ottawa-based PSP Investments in 2004 to lead the firm’s real
estate team, and then later oversaw the natural resources team as well.
He was promoted to CEO and president in February 2018, and since then the asset value of the firm’s investments has grown by more than C$50 billion.

“This
transition will happen at a time when PSP Investments will be
well-positioned financially, with a very capable executive team in place
to continue execution of PSP Investments’ strategy and business plan,”
Cunningham said in a statement. “I have been fortunate to work with
executives and investment professionals who are among the best
globally.”

Cunningham has been credited with leading and
implementing PSP’s workplace strategy, and for contributing to the
company’s diversity awareness and inclusion initiatives. He also serves
on the senior management committee, the management risk and investment
committee, and the talent committee. Prior to joining PSP, Cunningham
held various positions at Merrill Lynch, Brazos Advisors Canada,
National Bank of Canada, and Coopers & Lybrand. He also served as
chair of the board at Canadian retirement home provider Revera Inc.

“I
would like to recognize the immense contributions made by Neil
Cunningham to PSP Investments,” Martin Glynn, chair of the PSP’s board,
said in a statement. “PSP Investments’ strategy and growth, leading to
strong financial performance from both an absolute and relative basis,
is a testament to his leadership.”

Cunningham earned a bachelor of commerce degree with honors from Queen’s University and is a chartered accountant.

PSP
Investments oversees a portfolio composed of investments in public
financial markets, private equity, real estate, infrastructure, natural
resources, and credit investments. The firm, which was established in
1999, manages and invests amounts transferred to it from the government
of Canada for the pension plans of the federal Public Service, the
Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Reserve
Force.

On Monday, PSP Investments put out a press release announcing the future retirement of its president and CEO:

The Public Sector
Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments) announced the future
retirement of Neil Cunningham, President and CEO, to take place on March
31, 2023. PSP Investments is one of Canada’s largest pension investment
managers with over $204.5 billion in assets under management as of
March 31, 2021.

During his 19-year tenure at
PSP Investments, first leading the Real Estate team, later adding
oversight of the Natural Resources team and then as CEO, Neil Cunningham
effectively developed and implemented strategies that led to strong
financial performance and organizational growth. He led the expansion of
PSP Investments into new markets and sectors, oversaw the effectiveness
and success of the international offices in New York and London, and
opened a new office in Hong Kong.

“In helping to grow PSP Investments
from what it was when I joined the team in 2004 to the respected
international investment company that it is today, I have been fortunate
to work with executives and investment professionals who are among the
best globally. The timing of this transition will happen at a time when
PSP Investments will be well positioned financially, with a very capable
executive team in place to continue execution of PSP Investments’
strategy and business plan, permitting a smooth transition to a new
leader”
, said Neil Cunningham.

 

 

“I would like to recognize the immense
contributions made by Neil Cunningham to PSP Investments. PSP
Investments’ strategy and growth, leading to strong financial
performance from both an absolute and relative basis, is a testament to
his leadership”, said Martin Glynn, Chair of the Board. “I am also very
grateful to Neil for giving us ample time to conduct a fulsome search
process for a new CEO and ensure a smooth transition.” 

An executive search firm has been secured
to assist with selecting a successor. In the meantime, PSP Investments
will continue to move forward on its plans and strategies.

I am not sure if Egon Zehnder was mandated to assist with selecting a successor to Neil but let me give you some names to consider since I always get contacted for these executive searches:

  • Marlene Puffer, President and CEO of CN Investment Division
  • Tanya Carmichael, former Managing Director, Global Funds at OTPP
  • Andrew Claerhout, former Head of Infrastructure and Natural Resources at OTPP
  • Jean Michel, former CIO of IMCO
  • Daniel Garant, SVP and Global Head of Public Markets at BCI
  • Mark Wiseman, AIMCo Chair and former President and CEO of CPP Investments
  • Mark Machin, former President and CEO of CPP Investments
  • Michael Sabia, former President and CEO of CDPQ

“Oh no, not Sabia, please don’t tell me he’s coming back to the pension world.”

Never count Michael out of any executive search but I honestly doubt he wants to come back to the pension world and assume such a grueling job at his age (you never know).

All these people are highly qualified and should be on the short list. If none of these people are contacted, then you know the entire search is a sham and PSP’s Board already knows who the next CEO is going to be.

There are other highly qualified external and internal candidates to lead PSP Investments but I take this job very seriously and everyone I mentioned above has strengths and weaknesses.

It’s not an easy job, just ask Neil Cunningham, after 19 years at the organization and four years at the helm, he’s decided enough is enough, it’s time to look forward to retiring at the end of fiscal year 2023 and playing some golf.

Neil is still active as a board member of Bishop’s College School Foundation (BCS ’77, he was the past Chair of the foundation). Guthrie Stewart, the former Head of Private Investments at PSP Investments is Chair of the Board of Bishop’s College School (BCS ’73).

Anyway, Neil left his mark at PSP. André Collin, President of Commercial Real Estate Funds at Lone Star, hired him back in 2004 when he was at PSP to help him lead global real estate investments. From there, Neil flourished and eventually led the Real Estate and Natural Resources groups and then took over the helm after André Bourbonnais left the organization in February 2018.

PSP Investments CEO Set to Retire at the End of PSP Investments' CEO Set to Retire at the End of Fiscal 2023

Neil has seen it all at PSP: the good, the bad and the downright ugly (it wasn’t always fun times at PSP!).

It’s fair to say that PSP Investments has had its share of restructurings, periods of turbulence and even chaos during its short existence.

When Neil took over four years ago, he calmed things down (as he was tasked to do) and focused on leading and
implementing PSP’s workplace strategy, and bolstering the organization’s diversity awareness and inclusion initiatives.

I did reach out to Neil and PSP’s media early this morning to squeeze a chat in and their communications department did reply to my email but they never came back to me in time which is disappointing since they know EVERYONE reads my comments.

Whoever the next CEO is, make sure you aspire to being more like CPP Investments when it comes to communications, openness and transparency (CPP Investments sets the standard in communications that all of Canada’s pensions should aim to emulate).

There is still a lot of work left to do on that front but Neil and his executive team were tasked to improve diversity & inclusion and bolster PSP’s workplace strategy and that’s what they did.

And the organization is being recognized for a fifth consecutive year as a top employer in Montreal:

Now, I take all these “employer of the year awards” with a shaker of salt. If you really want to know how good any employer really is take a random walk in the offices and look at the facial expressions of employees, they typically speak volumes.

Still, in the case of PSP, I know they have done a lot to bolster the culture and workplace and take the feedback from their employees seriously in engagement surveys, especially during this pandemic.

Hopefully, whoever the next CEO is, they will build on these initiatives and improve PSP’s workplace and culture even more.

A great leader is charismatic and engages all the troops from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Anyway, I would have liked to chat with Neil on this but he never got back to me.

I did manage to get some feedback from a member of the Pubic Service Alliance of Canada in Ottawa who shared this with me:

Subsequent to the (retirement) announcement, the annual TRI-PAC meeting with
representatives of the PSPIB and that had been scheduled for February
28th, 2022 has been cancelled.

This is a meeting which is held on an annual basis (usually in November)
between a delegation of the PSPIB Board of Directors and Senior
Executive Officers and representatives of the Pension Advisory
Committees (PACs) for the Public Service, RCMP and Canadian Forces. PSP
Investments CEO Neil Cunningham is usually in attendance as well as
Martin Glynn Chair of the PSPIB.

I’m not sure why the upcoming annual TRI-PAC meeting with
representatives of the PSPIB was abruptly cancelled after this announcement but I did find this a bit odd (again, communications and transparency are absolutely critical, especially with your members).

In related news, PSP just released its Green Bond Framework:

The Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP
Investments), one of Canada’s largest pension investment managers, today
announced the publication of its Green Bond Framework.
Green Bonds will provide a new tool in PSP Investments’ toolkit to
support strong financial performance and responsible investment
outcomes.

PSP Investments’ Green Bond
Framework is aligned with existing standards in green bond and
sustainable debt markets
. It has been awarded an environmental rating of
“Medium Green” and the highest possible governance score of “Excellent”
by CICERO Shades of Green.
CICERO Shades of Green is internationally recognized as a leading
provider of independent reviews of green bond frameworks, and provides
an independent assessment of the processes established to assess and
select eligible projects for green bond investments.

“In addition to equipping PSP Investments
with a new financing vehicle that is expected to broaden our investor
base, the Green Bond Framework supports our comprehensive climate
strategy, which will be released in 2022”, said Neil Cunningham,
President and Chief Executive Officer at PSP Investments. “As a steward
of retirement assets of over 900,000 contributors and beneficiaries, we
have a longstanding practice of responsible investing as a means to
better manage ESG risks and generate the long-term adjusted returns
needed to achieve our mandate.”

The Green Bond Framework will enable PSP
Investments to answer increasing investor demand for sustainable debt
products. Eventual Green Bond proceeds will be used to fund projects
with high environmental impact or those where environmental performance
will be improved over time, in the following categories:

  • Renewable energy
  • Energy efficiency
  • Pollution prevention and control
  • Environmentally sustainable management of living natural resources and land use
  • Sustainable water and wastewater management
  • Circular economy adapted products, production technologies and processes
  • Green buildings
  • Clean transportation

About PSP Investments

The Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments) is one
of Canada’s largest pension investment managers with C$204.5 billion of
net assets under management as of March 31, 2021. It manages a
diversified global portfolio composed of investments in public financial
markets, private equity, real estate, infrastructure, natural resources
and credit investments. Established in 1999, PSP Investments manages
and invests amounts transferred to it by the Government of Canada for
the pension plans of the federal Public Service, the Canadian Forces,
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force. Headquartered
in Ottawa, PSP Investments has its principal business office in Montréal
and offices in New York, London and Hong Kong. For more information,
visit investpsp.com or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

This is an important initiative allowing PSP to broaden its investor base and support its comprehensive climate strategy which will be released later this year.

I wonder if PSP will follow CPP and others and announce its commitment to net-zero by 2050 or earlier.

PSP is actively looking for a new Head of Responsible Investing. I recently learned that Stéphanie Lachance, the former head, just joined Fiera Comox as their Head of Sustainable Investing.

I wish her much success in this new role and she will be joining other PSP alumni there like Anik Lanthier, President and Chief Investment Officer, Public Markets at Fiera Capital and John Valentini, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fiera Private Alternative Investments.

Below, an older webinar interview with Neil Cuningham which took place last May and was sponsored by the Canadian Club of Montreal. I hope to talk to Neil at least one last time before he sets off for retirement (maybe to cover fiscal year 2022 results later this year).

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