News: CJ Exclusives

Cowell Names Indiana Investment Chief Officer to Manage N.C. Pension

Wischmeier brought Indiana performance from bottom 25 percent to top tier

State Treasurer Janet Cowell has chosen the Indiana state retirement system’s top money manager to oversee investments in North Carolina’s $68 billion pension fund.

Shawn Wischmeier will become North Carolina’s chief investment officer June 23 and will be paid a base salary of $320,000.

“Mr. Wischmeier brings a great set of analytical and management skills to this Department,” Cowell said in a statement to the media. “I look forward to working with him as he takes on the responsibilities of leading our expert investment team that works to protect the benefits for over 820,000 retirement system members.”

Wischmeier is the second chief investment officer from Indiana to be named to that post here. Wischmeier’s predecessor, Patricia Gerrick, was the chief investment officer for the Indiana Public Employees’ Retirement Fund from April 2001 to October 2003.

“I have appreciated the opportunity to serve the members of Indiana PERF over the past several years,” Wischmeier said in a statement. “ I look forward to joining Treasurer Cowell and her team in managing the assets of the North Carolina Retirement Systems.”

In August 2009, Cowell told Gerrick that she needed to resign after Gerrick missed a deadline to disclose how much of her travel expenses had been paid by companies or associations. Cowell hasn’t said why Gerrick was terminated, but documents released in an open records request filed by Carolina Journal and other media organizations show that Cowell terminated Gerrick after “a review of various agency records” and “other concerns.” Gerrick’s final salary was $340,000.

In Indiana, the pension fund had a return of 22.61 percent last year, compared to an average return of 19.76 percent for public funds of $5 billion or more, according to the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service. North Carolina’s return was 15.08 percent last year.

“At this point we certainly hope he can help the system because our investment returns have certainly not been what retirees and active employees would like them to be,” said Ardis Watkins, the legislative affairs director for the State Employees Association of North Carolina. “I certainly hope he can bring something to the table because that’s what we need.”

Wischmeier brought Indiana’s pension fund from the bottom 25 percent in investment performance to the top 25 percent in less than four years. It recently was recognized as Large Public Plan of the Year by Institutional Investor News’ Money Management Letter. He also has worked for Eli Lilly and Company’s Global Treasury group and has a Master of Business Administration degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

“Shawn has accomplished a great deal while at PERF and he will certainly be missed,” said Steve Russo, the executive director of the Indiana fund. “Under his leadership, PERF’s investment team achieved national recognition as it placed the fund’s investment performance among the best public pension funds in the nation.”

Sarah Okeson is a contributor to Carolina Journal.