The Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan’s board of trustees has named Jeff Wendling the new president and chief executive officer, effective April 1, 2020.
Since joining the plan in 1998 as a senior portfolio manager on the public equities team, Wendling has had a long career at the plan. He led the public equities team through some challenging times, including the technology crisis in the early 2000s and the 2008 financial crisis.
In 2012, Wendling was appointed co-chief investment officer and become sole CIO in 2017. He currently serves as the HOOPP’s executive vice-president and chief investment officer.
When considering his accomplishments at the HOOPP over the years, Wendling highlights his role in introducing a liability-driven investing strategy. As well, when he became co-CIO, he significantly retooled the private equity program, building a larger, more scalable program with a balance between direct and fund investing and greater due diligence capabilities.
“That program we’ve taken from what was $2 billion and less than five per cent of assets up to $9 billion today,” Wendling says. “And that’s been a big source of value-add for the fund over the last seven or eight years.”
Wendling also points to the success of the HOOPP’s real estate program. After the previous head of real estate retired, he brought in new leadership and significantly ramped up international exposure of the asset class. “That program went from about $5 billion when I took over responsibility to $14 billion today and has also been a big source of value-add for the fund over the years.”
In addition, Wendling played a significant role in introducing the plan’s infrastructure program, which was only approved in 2019. “I felt it was something we needed exposure to basically, just to avail ourselves of another major asset class in a more significant way.”
With interest rates as low as they are today, and the need for other opportunities to generate returns, Wendling developed a business case for infrastructure, saw it through board approval and hired a leader for its team.
The plan’s infrastructure journey is still in its early days. “It has a small allocation right now but it’s something we’re going to grow over time — especially as we see better opportunities.”
Going forward, Wendling acknowledges that, while the past 10 years have seen strong performance across asset classes, the next period may be more challenging.
“We need to find new opportunities and ideas,” he says. “We need to look farther afield in the world. HOOPP’s been very much focused on North America and Western Europe, [and] probably less of a focus on other parts of the world than some of our peer plans. And that’s something that I think will change over time.
“We’re very much focused on our people and human capital and making sure we’ve got the best people and we can continue to attract and retain and develop folks.”
Wendling’s promotion from within the HOOPP comes with its benefits, since he knows the people, the organization, the strategies and the industry. “This is a very special place. We’ve been one of the top preforming pension plans in the world on many metrics, in terms of return, and I’ve seen and I’ve worked and I’ve been a part of that and I’ve really understood what’s made us successful. I think I’m in a great position to make sure that we preserve and we build upon our strengths.”
The HOOPP’s current CEO Jim Keohane announced his upcoming retirement last year. He joined the plan in 1999 and has been CEO since 2012.
This article originally appeared on Benefits Canada‘s companion site, the Canadian Investment Review.