As executive director and CIO, Williams is responsible for
SBA’s total assets under management of $195.9 billion, with $159.2
billion of that in the Florida Retirement System Pension Fund, the
fifth-largest public plan in the United States.
Since his return, the fund had aggregate gains of more than
$92.4 billion, outperforming its benchmark by $9.2 billion. The
fund’s annualized return is 8.11% versus a benchmark of 7.21%.
Michael Price, chairman of the Compensation Subcommittee
of the Investment Advisory Council (IAC), told the council in
September, “I think it's been a tremendous run. I think the Invest-
ment Advisory Council is doing better
For the fiscal year ending June
30, 2016, the plan’s funded status was
85.4% based on an actuarial basis.
Williams is in the rare position of
being able to compare working both in
the public and private sectors.
“Maintaining focus and capturing
good long-term results is more chal-
lenging in the public sector,” he told
CIO. “On the private side, objectives
tend to be very focused and aligned
with governance, stakeholders are
clear: owners and clients. Public
entities have potentially unlimited
stakeholders and infinite objectives,
depending on governance and politics.”
An increasing portion of SBA’s
assets are now managed in-house:
43.3% at December 31, 2016, versus
36.3% at December 31, 2010. The
Florida Retirement System Pension
Fund has gained nearly $52 billion since (net of $475 million per
month in net outflows to beneficiaries), and despite the shift to
in-house management, the SBA is considered a low-cost provider
among its peers, according to the performance analysis firm CEM
“While operating efficiencies and asset allocation make up a
large part of our cost savings, the evolution toward increasing the
portion of assets managed in-house, careful stewardship of external
manager relationships, and the prudent use of passive investing have
also been contributors to effective cost management,” said Williams.
The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund represents 7.3% of
the SBA’s assets under management. Following the fund’s depletion
after Florida landed in the path of eight storms in 2004 and 2005,
cash resources increase to $17.6 billion ahead of this year’s devastating storms, which put the fund in its strongest cash position ever.
Williams directed the fund to purchase $1 billion in reinsurance for
the past three years. While this year’s storm battering was not to
the level of 2004 and 2005 hurricane activity, November estimates
show 2017 storms will claim anywhere from $2 billion to $6 billion
from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.
Having brought the SBA back to health, Williams will be
refining existing strategies “to reflect where we are in the market
and economic cycles,” he said. He plans to continue the globalization of the SBA’s private-market strategies.
Like many CIOs, he is also working on projects to drive internal
asset management improvements in infor-
mation technology and project manage-
ment, while keeping pace with cyber-se-
curity and mobility demands. Also on
his agenda: A formal Governance, Risk,
and Compliance (GRC) review will soon
influence the evolutions of the organiza-
tion, consistent with best practices. He is
“always refining portfolio structure in all
asset classes to reflect our perception of
current opportunities and risks.”
His priorities for the coming years
will continue to be building and main-
taining the organization’s team, culture,
reputation, credibility, and resources “at
a strength that empowers mission and
vision fulfillment,” he said.
“Our most visible output is investment
results, the goodness or inadequacy of which
is readily seen. What is less visible is the
team building, policy, and strategy formation, risk management, and execution. If
the team, culture, processes, and resources
are right, the probability of investment
outcomes that earn trust, enhance reputation, and build brand value is vastly enhanced,” he said.
Despite being in a stormy state, Williams believes the greatest
risk posed to investments is geopolitical, “because of the near-impossibility to underwrite and the potential for catastrophic
disruption,” he said.
His investment philosophy is a combination of “understanding
the risks you are taking and pricing them accordingly; avoiding
uncompensated risk while looking for areas where you have a
demonstrable advantage, and allying with “partners of sound character and skill, and prospering together.” He told CIO, “There is no
hedge like a good valuation margin of safety.” —Christine Giordano
Ash Williams received BS and MBA degrees from Florida State University
(FSU), and completed post-graduate programs at University of Pennsylvania’s
Wharton School and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
If the team,
earn trust, enhance
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