Barb Zvan Named UPP's Inaugural CEO

The UPP Board of Trustees just announced the selection of Barbara Zvan as the inaugural President and CEO of the UPP:
Established on January 1, 2020, the UPP is a new defined benefit jointly sponsored pension plan (JSPP) designed to enhance the long-term sustainability of Ontario university pension plans. The JSPP model means shared governance between the employer and employee sponsors, giving members a new level of involvement in the governance of their pension plan.

"Barbara Zvan is uniquely qualified to take on this important role. Her leadership in the JSPP field and in responsible and sustainable investment is incomparable," said Gale Rubenstein, Chair of the UPP Board of Trustees and a Partner at Goodmans LLP. "The Board and I are delighted Barbara has agreed to help lead the UPP as we take our next major step forward to building a sustainable, defined benefit pension plan for Ontario's university sector."

The immediate priority of the CEO and Board of Trustees is to prepare for July 1, 2021 when, conditional on regulatory approvals, the new plan will be fully operational and plan administration – including benefit payments to members and investment of assets – legally becomes the responsibility of the Board.

"I am thrilled to be taking on this new role with the UPP," said Ms. Zvan, former Chief Risk and Strategy Officer (CRSO) for the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP). "The successful launch and growth of this new JSPP will help ensure pension sustainability for university sector employees. I look forward to providing high quality service to plan members as we move ahead with this exciting initiative."

Trained as an actuary, Ms. Zvan joined OTPP in 1995 as an assistant portfolio manager. As CRSO, she supported the Plan Sponsors in plan design decisions and the Board in determining the appropriate investment benchmarks and risk appetite. She crafted OTPP's responsible investing and climate change strategy and directed the organization's enterprise and operational risk management approach.

Ms. Zvan currently serves on the board of the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services, the Responsible Investment Association and the advisory board of the Institute of Sustainable Finance at the Smith School of Business, Queen's University. She is also a member of the Advisory Committee for the new 'Investing to Address Climate Change' Charter, thus far adopted by fifteen Canadian universities, as well as a member of the industry-led Task Force for a Resilient Recovery. She previously was the Chair of the International Centre of Pension Management (a partner of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board's Investor Advisory Group. She was one of four appointees to the Government of Canada's Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance and played a significant role in creating the G7 Investor Leadership Network.

The UPP's Joint Sponsors are the unions and faculty associations representing the members, and the three founding universities - Queen's University, the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto. The Board of Trustees is comprised of six trustees selected by the Employer Sponsor, six by the Employee Sponsor, one by non-unionized members, and a Chair selected jointly by the Sponsors. The UPP's joint sponsorship and shared governance and risk ensures a high degree of accountability and transparency, putting the interests of plan members at the centre of every decision the Board of Trustees makes.

The UPP will replace five pension plans now in place at the three founding universities. Over time the UPP will serve other Ontario universities who wish to join, with the support of their pension plan members.
This afternoon, I got a chance to talk with Barb Zvan, the inaugural President & CEO of UPP.

I want to begin by congratulating her and thanking her for calling me. I'm very happy for her, I think she will be an outstanding inaugural CEO for this new pension plan.

Truth be told, this is a very new organization but the groundwork to make UPP a reality took years of consultations.

Jim Leech, Ontario Teachers' former President and CEO who is now Chancellor of Queen's University, has been talking to me about this entity for a few years. He was instrumental in getting it off the ground.

Ron Mock who succeeded Jim now sits on the Board of UPP. I told Barb that I was surprised because Ron told me he never wants to sit on any board after he retired from Teachers'. "He told us all that too but he also wanted to be involved with universities and he decided to join this board."

Good thing, Ron has a ton of knowledge and experience, worked closely with Barb at Teachers' and I'm sure he looked favorably at this appointment, as did Jim Leech and Gale Rubenstein, the Chair of the UPP Board of Trustees and a Partner at Goodmans LLP (see an earlier comment of mine here).

Back to Barb. She told me this is "truly a startup”.

She has a year to lay the groundwork before the new plan will be fully operational and plan administration – including benefit payments to members and investment of assets – legally becomes the responsibility of the Board.

She needs to hire a CFO and focus on member services. She will be thinking of portfolio construction and setting a strategic direction for this new organization.

I told her the fun part of any pension is the ramp-up. I was there at PSP back in 2003 when the organization was still young and loved that phase before it grew bigger and more bureaucratic.

Barb agreed. She joined Ontario Teachers' back in 1995 after Claude Lamorureux, the inaugural CEO, was appointed back in 1990. "Bob Bertram joined in 1991, then Leo de Bever and those of us who were there back then got involved early and were part of the ramp-up."

Barb actually reported to four CEOs at Teachers': Claude Lamoureux, Jim Leech, Ron Mock and briefly to Jo Taylor before she left Teachers'.

She has tremendous experience in risk management, investment strategy,  portfolio construction and has worked on several high profile files like the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance and spearheaded the diversity file for Ron Mock and Michael Sabia for long-term institutions.

In short, this lady is brilliant, she really is, but she is soft spoken, humble, a hard worker and a genuinely nice lady with a ton of significant experience.

She believes in well-governed DB pensions and I think UPP picked the right person to lead this organization during this ramp-up phase. Barb will hire the right team, get the culture right and make sure diversity and inclusion are respected at all levels of the organization.

She told me she has a great Board and looks forward working closely with them to pass through some final regulatory hurdles before the new plan becomes fully operational next year. (She also spoke fondly of Annie Messier who once sat on the Board of Teachers').

Anyway, Barb told me UPP will start off with roughly $10 billion and UTAM and the investment offices of Queen's and Guelph will continue managing their respective endowment funds.

Barb now joins CNID's Marlene Puffer (another brilliant and nice lady) as the only other female CEO of a major Canadian pension plan. Hopefully, they will set the precedent for others to join this elite group over the next decade.

Lastly, I know I speak for everyone reading this comment when I wish Barb Zvan a lot of success and happiness in this new role, it's a great way to end a long and successful career.

Below, Barb Zvan discusses some of the findings from the Interim Report before they published the Final Report last June, Mobilizing Finance for Sustainable Growth.

Barb, Kim Thomassin, Tiff Macklem and Andy Chrisholm worked very hard to produce that final report but Kim told me: "Barb did most of the hard work". Kim is extremely happy Barb was named the inaugural CEO of UPP and she agrees with me, she will do an outstanding job.

I also embedded a clip about UPP. You can read more about this organization here. Take the time to read about its Board, funding and joint sponsorship here.