Meet HOOPP's New President and CEO

The Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) released a statement this morning announcing its CIO, Jeff Wendling, has been appointed the new president and CEO, effective April 1, 2020:
The Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) is pleased to announce the appointment of Jeff Wendling as the new President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO), effective April 1, 2020. He replaces Jim Keohane, who announced his retirement last year and has served as CEO since 2012.

Mr. Wendling is currently HOOPP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer (CIO). He has been with HOOPP for more than 20 years. He joined HOOPP in 1998 as a Senior Portfolio Manager on the Public Equities team. He also served as co-CIO before taking on his current role in 2018. Mr. Wendling earned his BA in Economics and his MBA from the University of Toronto, and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. He is also a board member of the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance and is the chair of its Public Policy Committee.

“Jeff has three decades of investment experience and has been integral in developing and overseeing HOOPP’s investment strategies; the Board is very pleased to have him as HOOPP’s new CEO,” said Dan Anderson, Chair of HOOPP’s Board of Trustees. “After an extensive search inside and outside Canada, the HOOPP Board determined that based on his deep knowledge of HOOPP, pension plans and the global investment landscape, Jeff stood out among the many strong candidates as the best person for the job.”

He added: “The Board’s top priority in the next few months is a smooth transition in leadership, and we will work closely with Jeff to make it as seamless as possible.”

Mr. Wendling said: “I am honoured to lead an organization that is committed to providing retirement security to more than 350,000 healthcare workers in Ontario. HOOPP has been very successful – a world-class pension plan that is a model for others. I am excited to work with the team to help take HOOPP to the next level, and continue to deliver on the pension promise to our members.”

“Jeff is a great choice for this position. With his leadership, the strong team already in place and the vision of the Board, HOOPP is well positioned for continued success,” said retiring CEO Jim Keohane. “During his time as CIO we achieved solid investment results, allowing HOOPP to maintain our funded position and keep plan pricing stable, while providing benefit improvements to members. I have enjoyed working alongside Jeff, and I’m very pleased that he’ll be taking the reins at HOOPP.”

Adrian Foster, HOOPP Board Vice-Chair, noted: “We would like to thank Jim for his leadership and commitment and we wish him well in retirement. HOOPP unquestionably excelled during Jim’s tenure, and we are confident it will continue to excel. The years ahead promise to be a time of growth and opportunity. We fully support Jeff and the HOOPP team, and we are confident they will leverage those opportunities to the benefit of Ontario’s healthcare sector.”

About the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan

HOOPP is the pension plan serving Ontario’s hospital and community-based healthcare sector, with more than 570 participating employers. HOOPP’s membership includes nurses, medical technicians, food services staff, housekeeping staff, and many other people who provide valued healthcare services. In total, HOOPP has more than 350,000 active, deferred and retired members.

HOOPP operates as a private independent trust and is governed by a Board of Trustees with a sole fiduciary duty to deliver the pension promise. The Board has representation from the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) and four unions: the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union (OPSEU), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
This morning, I had a chance to talk to Jeff Wendling, HOOPP's new president and CEO. I'd like to thank him for taking the time to talk to me and I'd like to thank James Geuzebroek, Senior Manager, Media and Public Affairs, for setting this call up.

I began by congratulating Jeff and told him I wasn't shocked as I had written a while ago that he was the leading contender to replace Jim Keohane who gave him a ringing endorsement:
“Jeff is a great choice for this position. With his leadership, the strong team already in place and the vision of the Board, HOOPP is well positioned for continued success,” said retiring CEO Jim Keohane. “During his time as CIO we achieved solid investment results, allowing HOOPP to maintain our funded position and keep plan pricing stable, while providing benefit improvements to members. I have enjoyed working alongside Jeff, and I’m very pleased that he’ll be taking the reins at HOOPP.”
My initial thoughts after speaking with Jeff is he reminds me a lot of Jim Keohane (I made the mistake of calling him "Jim" once or twice in our conversation). He's super nice, humble, down-to-earth, very smart and investment savvy, hard-working and dedicated to HOOPP and furthering the cause of DB pensions all over the world.

In other words, the best way I can describe this nomination is continuity and keeping the main elements which have led to HOOPP's success intact.

In fact, I was surprised to learn Jeff Wendling has been around HOOPP longer than Jim Keohane. He joined a few months earlier and has been an integral part in developing the investment strategy across public and private markets.

He sounds young on the phone (told me he's 59 years old) but he has tremendous experience.

He told me under his watch, they ramped up Private Equity from $2 billion to over $9 billion through "fund investments (60%) and directs which are mostly co-investments and diversified all over the world."

I told him I agree with this strategy, that's how CPPIB scaled up its massive private equity program to 25% of the total fund.

He also told me Jim Walker, Head of Private Markets and Managing Partner of HOOPP Capital Partners, is doing a great job and that they will continue implementing this strategy.

In Real Estate, Jeff told me under his watch, they ramped it up from $5 billion to over $14 billion and shifted the geographic focus outside Canada and more on industrial real estate like logistics properties.

He said "HOOPP is one of the biggest industrial landowners in Canada" (see a recent comment of mine on how HOOPP will develop Waterloo's iPort Cambridge) and that industrial real estate offsets the ongoing slump in retail (see my comment on trouble at IvanhoƩ Cambridge).

Jeff spoke highly of Stephen Taylor, the former head of Real Estate who recently retired from HOOPP and told me Jim Walker is in charge of this asset class now but "they are looking for a new head of Real Estate" (I think they should consider Claude Sirois and ignore the nonsense in the media).

What else? I specifically asked Jeff Wendling what are the challenges he sees ahead and he told me "scale" and delivering the same results as the plan's assets have surpassed the $100 billion mark.

His focus is on the long term and he realizes a few things:
  • On overvalued asset classes: "We are at the tail end of an 11 year bull market and most the asset classes are overvalued." Jeff also told me "private equity is expensive" and I told him to read my comment on private equity's veneer including the update where I explain how private equity's incestuous new strategy is raising concerns.
  • On HOOPP's LDI approach: "Given that rates are at record low levels and we won't invest in negative-yielding bonds, we are going to ramp up Infrastructure which we introduced in 2019, as well as Real Estate and Private Equity but we will be extremely selective in the deals we enter."
  •  On private debt: "We do engage in middle market lending and have done structured equity deals. This represents roughly 1% of our assets and will grow provided we find the right deals."
  • On external hedge funds: "We have started allocating to external absolute return funds but very selectively and only if we cannot replicate these strategies internally" (they do a lot of hedge fund strategies internally)
  • On technology: "We will invest more in technology to better manage our assets and liabilities."
I guess the most important difference between Jim Keohane's tenure and Jeff Wendling's is that Jeff will oversee massive scaling into some asset classes (like infrastructure, private debt?)  and is open to selectively investing in some external hedge funds and leveraging off these relationships (if I was a sophisticated hedge fund, I'd jump on any opportunity to have HOOPP as a client).

He said he has a great executive team and investment team and great employees at HOOPP to take on whatever challenges lie ahead.

Lastly, I asked Jeff if he will continue in Jim Keohane's footsteps and promote the value of a good (DB) pension all over the world.

He told me he has been working closely with Jim, meeting provincial and federal government representatives to promote well governed DB plans and will continue to do so. He also told me he's very comfortable assuming a more public role which comes with the territory of being the head of HOOPP.

Once again, I thank Jeff Wendling, HOOPP's new CEO (and still CIO for the near term), for taking the time to talk to me earlier today and I look forward to speaking with him and Jim Keohane when HOOPP's 2019 results are made public later this month.

Below, an older clip on why HOOPP matters. It matters a lot and under the watch of Jeff Wendling, this organization will grow and continue to deliver on its pension promise.

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