Breaking News: CalSTRS CIO Chris Ailman to Retire

Chris Ailman, lauded chief investment officer of the second largest pension fund in the United States, has announced his retirement.
The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS), with $317.8 billion in assets under management as of November 30, 2023, stated in a press release that he will continue to serve as CIO through June 30, 2024, while the board conducts a global search for his successor. Ailman has served as the CalSTRS CIO since October 2000. He is one of the longest-tenured CIOs in the world.

"It has been an honor to lead and guide this massive global investment trust fund for the teachers of California," Ailman said. "CalSTRS is truly a world-class asset manager and we have a powerful track record of top performance at a low cost with an amazing diverse internal team."
Ailman has become known as one of the most respected voices in the industry, and is peer-recognized for raising the profile of chief investment officers across the nation, diversity on investment staffs and in the financial industry, and sustainable, accountable investing. Ailman is chairman of the 300 Club of global CIOs and co-chair of the Milken Global Capital Markets Advisory Council. He serves on the boards of FCLT, Focus Capital on the Long-term, the MSCI Management Advisor Council and the CEM Global III FFFF.  He has been named the top global CIO by several publications over the years and received two lifetime achievement awards. He is a regular guest on CNBC and Bloomberg TV.

Chief Investment Officers will gather to will celebrate Ailman’s many achievements with a peer-nominated CIO Hall of Fame award and ceremony at Markets Group’s National Institutional Retreat July 15-17. Allocating Chief Investment Officers and top thought leaders are invited to attend.
Over the course of his tenure, the CalSTRS Investment Portfolio grew from $109.6 billion when he started to $317.8 billion as of November 30, 2023.Ailman guided it through the aftermath of the internet bubble bust in 2000–2002, the economic effects of the 9/11 tragedy and the 2008 global financial crisis. His insights and advice for the board and steady leadership of investment staff yielded top-quartile results for his 20 years ending June 30, 2023, according to the press release.  

A strong advocate for diversity throughout his career, Ailman has been known to investigate whether a firm’s culture and thought diversity is “stale, pale and male.” Running the largest educator-only pension fund in the world, he realized early-on that the majority of his pensioners were female teachers, and was early to champion gender and cultural diversity in the financial industry, often pointing to data on how diversity led to better returns.  He led the way with internships and mentorship programs and could often be seen introducing new interns during investment meetings, and spotlighting emerging and diverse manager commitments, outreach events, and engagements at portfolio companies. CalSTRS said these programs will continue to grow under the new CIO.
Since Ailman was responsible for the investments of more than $1 million people who weren’t eligible for Social Security, and whose average pension was about $5,100, Ailman’s approach had to be both pragmatic, risk aware,  and capitalistic while being sensitive to California’s mandates and environmental goals. At his investment office, Ailman created an innovation team and two new asset classes, Inflation Sensitive and Risk Mitigating Strategies.  He spent the last five years helping the board commit to and implement a sustainable portfolio, (see Sustainability Report here) including the long-term goal to achieve a net zero greenhouse gas emissions portfolio by 2050 or sooner. CalSTRS annualized returns for the past three, five, 10 and 20 years were 10.1%, 8.2%, 8.7% and 8.0%, respectively, as of June 30, 2023.
Ailman guided CalSTRS be listed as Best Places to Work in Money Management for almost a decade, and is regularly listed among the top 100 global CIOs by multiple publications .He was known to call and make himself available to members of the investment industry with words of advice or encouragement, and could be seen at events that broke new ideas to feed his intellectual curiosity, or discussed global and burgeoning trends that helped to inform his ahead-of-the-curve thought leadership.

"Under Christopher's leadership, CalSTRS has weathered two challenging decades of financial market downturns and bull markets. He is a global leader and viewed as one of the top CIOs in the world," Teachers' Retirement Board Chair Harry Keiley said. "His legacy and biggest contribution is his commitment to diversity and developing highly skilled professionals who have performed at a high level for more than two decades. I am eternally grateful to Christopher for all that he has given to CalSTRS, and I am confident the Investments team will continue to help us achieve our mission to secure the financial future of California’s educators.”

Upon retirement, Ailman will serve as an advisor to the new CIO to assist in the transition for the remainder of 2024, and will pursue serving on boards and advising asset managers and owners on the global energy transition and the path to net zero. He has a passion for teaching and will continue to present guest lectures at multiple universities.

By Christine Giordano