Defined Benefit, Institutional Investors, People

Bruebaker Will Be “Present” in His Retirement

Gary Bruebaker, chief investment officer of the $135 billion Washington State Investment Board (WSIB), will retire on December 20, 2019, after 18 years on the job. Institutional Allocator took the opportunity to speak with Bruebaker about his reasons for retiring and to ascertain the pension fund’s plans for replacing him. The WSIB’s goal is to have a new CIO in place by early 2020.

Gary Bruebaker, chief investment officer, Washington State Investment Board

Bruebaker, who is 64, says his decision to retire was not an easy one. “Many factors come into play when deciding the right time to transition out of a full-time career. Two of the most important ones are determining if you have enough retirement savings and a financial plan to fulfill the lifestyle you want for your remaining years, and the other is determining if there are things important to you that you can’t accomplish while working full-time. I am blessed to have had the first factor satisfied 11 years ago, and I have other life plans that will work out better with my full-time attention,” he said.

Bruebaker has big plans for his newfound free time. “My wife and I plan to spend five months a year at our house in Goodyear, Arizona and seven months a year at our lake house here in Olympia, Washington. When in Arizona, we will occasionally fly out some of our kids and/or grandkids.” Bruebaker has three children and six grandchildren, all of whom live in Washington.

“Honestly, I have missed some of life due to the demands of building a career and managing a $135 billion investment portfolio, along with the related travel,” he confessed. “I now hope to focus on being a better husband, father, grandfather and friend. I want to be 100 percent present in the moment in whatever I am doing in this regard.” 

Bruebaker considered retiring 11 years ago, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. The reason? “Frankly, work has been mostly fulfilling for me. When my wife and I discuss my work-life expectations for our three kids and six grandkids, she “affectionately” calls me a freak of nature,” he revealed. “I started saving for my first car when I was eight years old by working in neighbors’ yards, and got the car a month before my 16th birthday. I purchased my first house when I was 19. I started planning for my retirement when I was 23 years old. The plan started with the goal of retiring at 53, then the plan moved to 58, then 62, and finally to 65,” he reminisced. “Whenever I neared a planned retirement date, I realized I was still enjoying the work. Okay, it may have had something to do with my wife reminding me that she was not quite ready for having twice the time with her husband but at half the pay,” he joked. 

So what will Bruebaker miss most about the job? “Working with the great staff we have here at the Washington State Investment Board. What I will NOT miss? The business travel,” he admitted.

I now hope to focus on being a better husband, father, grandfather and friend. I want to be 100 percent present in the moment in whatever I am doing in this regard.” 

WSIB’s Recruitment Efforts

Bruebaker will make himself available to the WSIB staff throughout early 2020 to offer support during the period of transition to the new CIO. The pension fund has hired recruiter Lyndon Taylor of Heidrick & Struggles to launch an industrywide search with hopes of completing the recruiting process to find Bruebaker’s successor by mid-2019. Both internal and external candidates will be considered.

WSIB’s Executive Director, Theresa Whitmarsh, is responsible for the search process and the hire. “Her goal and that of the recruiter is simply to find the best possible candidates to fill some very big shoes,” said Chris Phillips, director, institutional relations and public affairs at WSIB.

“The WSIB will seek a successor who, like Gary, is able to combine steadfast discipline to our mission with an openness to new ideas and diverse viewpoints covering all asset classes,” Phillips said. “The role clearly requires a blend of technical and interpersonal qualities, knowledge and instincts, art and science. Beyond this, our executive director and our human resources staff will work closely with our recruiter to clearly define and refine the specifics of the job.”

More details about what the WSIB is seeking in terms of candidate qualifications will be posted by the recruiter as part of the search process. “There is no single personality type for this role, but clearly a close fit with our organizational culture and our people will be vital,” Phillips noted.

Staff at the pension fund do expect some things to change when the new CIO comes in. “The job is constantly changing, as it did during Gary’s tenure. This will continue, and perhaps at an increased pace, as the market always demands that new issues be addressed,” Phillips said.

Bruebaker has worked for over 40 years in the investment business, including serving as WSIB’s CIO since 2001. He started his career as a senior auditor for the Oregon Secretary of State Division of Audits in 1978. He then served as the controller of the Oregon Housing Agency, beginning in 1983. From 1987 to 1988 he served as the controller, then as the director of finance (1988 to 1992), and then as deputy state treasurer for the Office of the State Treasurer in Oregon from 1992 to 2000.

The investment philosophy that Bruebaker instituted at the fund, which still stands today, is outlined in the WSIB’s 17 Investment Beliefs, which include practicing a mission of maximizing investment returns at a prudent level of risk. “This entails focusing on long-term results, maintaining discipline in all market cycles and employing the best-in-class investment staff and partners,” said Bruebaker in a prior interview.

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