John Crocker was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Benefits Canada’s 2011 Pension & Investment Awards.

Until 2007, the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) was a conventional 60/40 equities/bonds DB plan, says John Crocker, president and CEO, and winner of Benefits Canada’s Pension & Investment Lifetime Achievement award. While the fund enjoyed a surplus in the late ’90s, the 2000/01 tech crash resulted in a deficit. “That got us on a journey of thinking,” says Crocker.

That thinking, led by Crocker, got HOOPP to approach its board in 2007 to change the fund’s asset mix, because there was too much risk in the 60/40 split relative to the fund’s liabilities. In October of that year, HOOPP sold about $6 billion of equities and invested it into the bond market. The plan’s asset mix is now roughly 46/54.

Although HOOPP’s change to liability driven investing (LDI) made no difference in 2007, in 2008, the year of the financial crisis, “the wheels fell off in Q4, and then it was payday for us,” says Crocker. HOOPP lost 11.97% that year. (Many of the larger pension plans were down an average of about 18%.) But in 2009, HOOPP made more than 15.18%, and as of the end of 2010, it is 101% funded.

Under Crocker’s leadership, HOOPP also replaced its technology platform in 2010. The new investment management technology has enabled the fund to pursue its LDI strategy; it has also replaced many manual processes, speeded up trading and opened up new investment options. “Having that capability, that powerful system, enables us to do very complex derivative strategies [with] the appropriate level of monitoring governance and management,” he says.

Crocker is also a strong advocate for the importance of the DB model in providing adequate income in retirement. He has addressed this topic at conferences and has spoken out on it through the media, interviews, events and discussions with government. And HOOPP has won three awards for its advocacy efforts.

“There’s a huge amount of misinformation out there as to the real cost of retirement and the best vehicles to retire,” he says. “Unbiased research would demonstrate that a large well-governed, transparent pension plan with good scale is the best way to turn an earnings dollar into a retirement dollar.”

But even though adequate income is important, the route to retirement is not all work. Crocker also leads HOOPP in support of work/life balance. (He goes to the gym from 11 a.m. to noon daily.) “My philosophy is, I expect people to work hard, but I don’t send emails at three in the morning or on Saturday night.”

But Crocker is quick to point out that he’s not the only one who deserves credit for HOOPP’s accomplishments. “If everything goes well, I get the credit. If everything goes badly, I take the blame. The reality is, there are a lot of smart people in the organization,” he says, pointing to incoming CEO Jim Keohane (who will be succeeding Crocker when he retires on December 31 this year) and the broad group of people in other parts of the organization.

As of January 1, Crocker will have more time to travel and to focus on his involvement with the United Way. However, his days likely won’t all be filled with wanderlust and philanthropy. Crocker still believes in the cause: retirement income adequacy. “If I can play a positive role in that, I’d be happy to.”

Brooke Smith is managing editor of Benefits Canada.

Get a PDF of this article and other coverage from the awards gala.

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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