Pension funds

That time I met Ron Mock, departing CEO of Teachers

OPM 3 min read
My career is the sum of my experiences. - Ron Mock

Ron Mock, President and CEO of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is retiring at the end of the year, having been in post since January 2014. Teachers manages over $200 billion. During his tenure (to the end of 2018), Ron Mock has added a cumulative five-year net value add of $14.2 billion and an annualized 1.5% above the policy benchmark, according to Teachers.

I am totally angling with this piece for an invite to the retirement party and then in January, I will pursue him to be Vice-Chairman of OPM Wire. It’s the best offer I can make. He has expertise in manager research, which is also now my focus. He was recently quoted about the abundance of capital today, saying: “Quite frankly, if somebody’s looking for capital, $500m cheques can easily be found.” That’s the kind of go-getter attitude I could use around here. I totally have a shot because only ten years prior to taking the helm at Teachers, he came to see me while I was working as an analyst at a hedge fund!!! True story! At the time, he was a director of alternative investments for Teachers. He was meeting with my boss, the fund manager and they decided to tour the firm and he stopped by my office to chat!

I can easily prove this, because I still remember that he was wearing some sort of Native inspired bracelet. It didn't have eagle feathers dangling, but it was also not typical of standard corporate attire. He might also have been wearing a long leather jacket, though I might be mixing him with someone else on that. Anyways, he was a total non-square, I liked him instantly. Ron Mock was also accompanied by a more conventionally dressed associate, Daniel MacDonald. Mock asked me how the fund would handle bigger amounts of capital. Rather than saying that I was a simple analyst and that this was above my pay grade, I formulated and blurted out an actual answer!

But that's not the whole story! I had an earlier interaction with Mock. When I was a student in Toronto in 2000, I read about a local hedge fund called Phoenix Research and Trading in a Barry Critchley column. Phoenix was having some trouble at the time. That didn't deter me from applying for a summer job - faxing my CV the very day they shut down the fund. And now, the shoe is on the other foot - I’ll be the one recruiting him. I’ll drive a hard bargain too, now that Mark Wiseman is also on the market. Teachers pays fat salaries (by pension world standards). Mock has a place in the Swiss-Italian lakes. I see, so Muskoka is not good enough for him.

Phoenix was the victim of a rogue trader who violated the fund's investment provisions, resulting in a $125m loss, essentially wiping out the fund. Quite surprising, considering it was supposed to be a market-neutral fixed-income arbitrage fund. Probably the first noteworthy hedge fund blowup in Canada. This was a firm of about $250m in assets carrying a rogue position of $3 billion. Pretty incredible. The other principal of Phoenix was Mark Kassirer, who until recently headed Kassirer Asset Management, a merger arbitrage firm. I don’t know what happened to that. Anyways, the whole Phoenix story has been well documented by the press, no need to stir stuff up.

Teachers had the courage to make an unconventional decision and Ron Mock appears to have delivered. He went from managing $250 million to $200 billion in 20 years. I guess ultimately, he lived up to the Phoenix name, that's quite a turnaround! That bracelet must have had magical powers. I saw this recent photo where he still appears to be wearing it:

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