A Conversation With AIMCo's New Co-CIOs

Palash Ghosh of Pensions & Investments reports AIMCo appoints 2 co-chief investment officers:

Sandra Lau and James Barber were named co-chief investment officers of Alberta Investment Management Corp., effective March 1.

Ms. Lau was appointed co-chief investment officer-head of public investments, while Mr. Barber was named co-chief investment officer-head of private investments, according to a news release issued on Thursday.

Ms. Lau and Mr. Barber together succeed Dale MacMaster, who announced his retirement from AIMCo last October. Mr. MacMaster served with the company for 23 years, the last seven years as its chief investment officer, the release noted.

In their new roles, Mr. Barber will be responsible for real estate, infrastructure, private equity and private debt and loans, while Ms. Lau will be "responsible for bringing together fixed income, mortgages and public equities addressing clients' needs for more liquid investments," AIMCo added in the release.

Ms. Lau was AIMCo's executive vice president-fixed income, while Mr. Barber was its executive vice president-public equities. Successors for Mr. Barber and Ms. Lau have not yet been named, said a company spokesman by email. However "both have very strong teams in place, so there will be no disruption to business."

Based in Edmonton, AIMCo had more than C$150 billion ($117.4 billion) of assets under management as of Dec. 31.

AIMCo put out a press release announcing Sandra Lau and James Barber are appointed co-chief investment officers of the organization:

Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) is pleased to announce the appointments of Ms. Sandra Lau to the role of co-Chief Investment Officer, Head of Public Investments, and Mr. James Barber to the role of co-Chief Investment Officer, Head of Private Investments. Ms. Lau and Mr. Barber succeed Dale MacMaster, who announced his retirement from AIMCo last October having served 23 years with the organization, the last seven as Chief Investment Officer. The transition is effective March 1, 2022.

“After screening over 60 qualified candidates from around the world, it became clear that the best choice for our clients is to appoint Sandra Lau and James Barber as co-Chief Investment Officers of AIMCo,” said Evan Siddall, Chief Executive Officer. “Their combined expertise will serve our clients best, striking an ideal balance that no other candidates were able to match.”

“Internal leadership succession should always be our preference, and I am pleased that we were able to build our team from within. Sandra’s deep history at AIMCo provides important continuity of leadership and sensitivity to client need, while James’s global industry experience and investment acumen helps ensure we are at the forefront of global asset management.”

As co-Chief Investment Officers, James will serve as Head of Private Investments, responsible for Real Estate, Infrastructure, Private Equity and Private Debt and Loan. Sandra will serve as Head of Public Investments, responsible for bringing together Fixed Income, Mortgages and Public Equities addressing clients’ needs for more liquid investments.

“The positive impact that Dale has had on the growth and evolution of AIMCo for the benefit of its clients during the past 23 years is indelible,” added Evan Siddall.

“Under his leadership AIMCo built a strong, client-oriented investment platform with a deep team of professionals ready to serve our clients. On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Dale for his deep commitment to the organization and considerable delivery of client value over the past 23 years. It is particularly gratifying that in his final year with the organization, Dale oversaw the strongest levels of investment performance ever realized by the organization. We wish him well in his retirement.”

Biographical Notes

Sandra Lau

Sandra Lau most recently served as Executive Vice President, Fixed Income, and led a team of investment professionals responsible for managing $40 billion of fixed income, private placement, private mortgages and private debt and loan assets on behalf of AIMCo clients. Since joining AIMCo in 1999, she has held progressively more senior positions, most recently as Executive Vice President, Fixed Income. Ms. Lau is a member of the Executive Committee, the Management Investment Committee, and the Tactical Asset Allocation Committee.

Sandra holds a B.Comm and an MA in Economics and Finance from the University of Alberta, and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. She is the Co-Founder of Edmonton Women in Finance, and a member of Bank of Canada Canadian Fixed Income Forum. Sandra sits on the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

James Barber

James Barber is a global investor with a strong client focus who most recently served as Executive Vice President, Public Equities, having previously served as Chief Investment Officer – Equities at Russell Investments for seven years.

James has extensive experience in developing and leading global investment teams, architecting investment processes, product innovation and managing multi strategy portfolios and research teams across different regions. Over the course of his career, he has gained deep industry knowledge on portfolio construction, manager research, quantitative research, predictive analytics, forecasting, factor investing, optimization and risk management, all leveraged to drive performance, innovation and growth for his clients.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Barber managed global and regional portfolios at SEI in the UK and USA after a successful career in advisory and litigation at KPMG in South Africa James holds a Bachelor of Science, Statistics and Economics from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Master’s in Business Administration from University of Witwatersrand and is a Chartered Financial Analyst Charterholder. He has completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

About Alberta Investment Management Corporation

AIMCo is one of Canada’s largest and most diversified institutional investment managers with more than $150 billion of assets under management. AIMCo was established on January 1, 2008 with a mandate to provide superior long-term investment results for its clients. AIMCo operates at arms-length from the Government of Alberta and invests globally on behalf of 32 pension, endowment and government funds in the Province of Alberta.

Late Thursday, I took a break from covering CDPQ's 2021 results to chat with AIMCo's two new co-CIOs, Sandra Lau and James Barber.

And earlier today, I also had a quick chat with AIMCo's CEO, Evan Siddall, to go over these appointments.

I want to thank all of them for taking some time to talk to me and also thank Dénes Nemeth, Vice President, Corporate Communications, for setting up the Teams meeting and sending me material.

Before I begin, I want to wish AIMCo's outgoing CIO, Dale MacMaster, a nice retirement.

I've spoken to Dale a few times over the years and he's an extremely impressive CIO who really knows his stuff. It's unfortunate the vol blowup at AIMCo happened under his watch but that takes nothing away from his leadership and investment acumen which is second to none. He's also a really nice guy.

Any way you slice it, Dale is a top-notch CIO who led professionals that delivered outstanding long-term results at AIMCo under his watch.

Now, let me get to my conversation with Sandra and James.

I will admit, I already knew a bit about Sandra and heard nothing but good things about her.

When you talk to her, she's even more impressive, she really understands markets and AIMCo's portfolios very well.

She told me as head of Fixed Income, they invested in private credit and mortgages, saw the underwriting there and in infrastructure deals. She also was part of investment committees and took part in the asset allocation decisions.

Having worked 23 years at AIMCo, she has seen it all there and has deep organizational experience, another big plus in her new role as co-CIO.

James Barber is more of a newbie at AIMCo, having joined the organization on July 14, 2021, two weeks after Evan Siddall started as the new CEO, when he was appointed to the role of Executive Vice President, Public Equities.

Of course, the first question I asked him what experience he has with Private Markets, after all, he will be heading up these assets.

James is very sharp. Before joining AIMCo, he served as Co-Founder and Managing Partner of AMP Investment Partners, having previously served as Chief Investment Officer – Equities at Russell Investments for seven years. 

Earlier in his career, he managed global and regional portfolios at SEI in the UK and USA where he did a lot of asset class research across public and private markets and he has extensive experience on architecting investment processes, product innovation and managing multi strategy portfolios and research teams across different regions. 

Moreover, as the statement notes: "Over the course of his career, he has gained deep industry knowledge on portfolio construction, manager research, quantitative research, predictive analytics, forecasting, factor investing, optimization and risk management, all leveraged to drive performance, innovation and growth for his clients."

Interestingly, he told me the dichotomy between public and private markets is disappearing and referred to the recent acquisition of Ausnet Services which AIMCo was part of along with a consortium that included Brookfield Asset Management, Inc., Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), Investment Management Corporation of Ontario (IMCO), Sunsuper Superannuation Fund (Sunsuper) and Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments).

"When you're taking large public companies private, you need to understand the deal just as much as when you are acquiring a private company. There is increasingly a lot of overlap between public and private markets."

As far as deep knowledge of private markets, he said he will be leaning on the experts below him and will give them "autonomy with accountability".

As far as sharing the CIO role, Sandra told me she looks forward to a collaborative arrangement where she can share insights and be challenged from her colleague. 

"When you are managing close to $200 billion in assets, two heads are better than one."

Evan Siddall explained to me this morning that AIMCo is a multi client/ multi asset investment manager and as such it made sense to offer various platforms and have two co-CIOs manage the responsibility.

"When you are managing over $160 billion for many clients with different risk tolerance, it becomes complex, you want to have the right people in charge of investments."

He praised both co-CIOs and told me: "Sandra is the smartest market person I know, when I have  questions on these markets, I go to her."

He also said he's very proud to promote an extremely competent Asian Canadian woman to the role of co-CIO.

"Diversity & inclusion is something we take very seriously here with 56% of our employees being non-white. And pretty soon, half of our executive team will be made up of women."

One thing I can tell you about Evan, his integrity and values are unflinching, he absolutely takes diversity & inclusion very seriously.

What else did I discuss with Sandra and James?

We talked about everything really, from liquidity risk management, to tactical asset allocation, to ESG and responsible investing.

James made a good point that the transition to net zero will require deep investments "from the bottom up" and it will require investing in new technologies and helping more established companies reduce their carbon footprint.

Sandra said the transition to net zero could come with "inefficiencies" that raise inflationary pressures in the short run if we are not careful.

She told me she doesn't see rates normalizing to 4-5% any time soon but we will have periods of higher inflation followed by longer periods of low growth and lower rates. 

James concurred that there is "enormous rate sensitivity" in global economies.

[Note: See AIMCo's long-term forecast covering 17 asset classes, including equities, fixed income and private assets here]

As far as managing risk, he told me apart from a well diversified portfolio across multiple regions and sectors, they will be looking at risk at a "transaction level" very closely.

Both Sandra and James will continue to work closely with Amit Prakash, AIMCo's Chief Fiduciary Management Officer, who works directly with clients helping them with their strategic asset mix.

Evan, Sandra and James reiterated that "AIMCo is client-centric" and they hold performance, accountability and collaboration in high regard, they are part of their organizational values.

Lastly, Evan Siddall told me this morning that data will be critical as ESG integration across public and private markets takes hold.

AIMCo is currently looking to hire a Chief Technology Officer and that process is well underway.

I want to once again thank Sandra, James and Evan for talking to me and wish AIMCo's two new co-CIOs a lot of success as they take up their new roles.

I look forward to talking to them again when AIMCo's results are released this spring. 

Below, since I didn't cover markets this Friday, watch CNBC's senior stocks correspondent Bob Pisani as he answers all your markets and investing questions.