Private Markets Firms See Teacher Retirement System of Texas as ‘Poaching Ground’

By David G. Barry


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has built one of the world’s largest private markets’ portfolios, as private equity, real estate and energy, natural resources, and infrastructure account for $75 billion of the plan’s $200 billion value. Over the past year, private markets has generated a 31% return and over the past three and five years, it’s had a return of 17% and 15%, respectively.

But those efforts have come with a downside, as Eric Lang, TRS’ senior managing director of private markets, conveyed to the system’s investment committee. Specifically, he said, TRS’ investment management division has lost 21 people since the start of 2021.

“Being an industry leader comes at the cost of attrition,” Lang said. “The market has realized we have good people. We’ve had a lot of people leave for private markets, unfortunately.”

The private markets industry, he said, “has realized that our people are well trained and that they are good. We’ve a poaching ground.”

Among those who Markets Group identified as having left TRS over the past two years for roles with private markets firms are: Shelby Wanstrath, who served as TRS’ co-head of private equity funds, and is now managing director, corporate growth initiatives, at Vista Equity Partners; Courtney Villalta, who was a director of private markets at TRS, and who is now a managing director with Apollo Global Management Inc.; Heidi Piper, who was on TRS’ private equity team, and is vice president, direct and fund investment at Northgate Capital; and Maddie Minnaganti, who was an investment manager with TRS, and is now chief of staff for Upwell Water.


Lang told the investment committee that when employees come to him with offers they’ve received, there is not a lot to say other than “I’m happy for you.”

He said that losing employees to private markets firms “isn’t the worst thing” as TRS is “building a great network.” That, in turn, is providing a value proposition for would-be employees. It is showing them, Lang said, that the system will train them and that they’ll have the ability to go elsewhere and do great things or “stay here and do great things.”

Lang added that TRS has a “great bench” and has hired some great, early career professionals who it will put through its training program.  


Jase Auby, TRS’ chief investment officer, also speaking to the investment committee, said “we have a great training program. We train them well. We would just like to hold onto them longer. They are leaving earlier than our strategy.”


Auby said that if the pace of departures continues, TRS will end up seeing a third of its staff turn over between January 2021 and December 2022. The division, he said, is currently recruiting for 17 positions.
“Retention remains a very important topic for IMD,” Auby said.

Departures, he added, cause two significant issues: “The challenge is that we are missing those folks and the folks who remain are spending increasing amount of their time recruiting and interviewing.”

The TRS board has approved changes to the investment management division’s compensation initiatives, giving it a means to better compete with outside firms. Lang referred questions about these changes to a spokesman, Rob Maxwell, who declined comment.

“Besides making great investments, our biggest priority is dealing with attrition and retention,” Lang said. “We do want to retain. That’s the highest priority.”