Singh's Take: Calpers Steps Back From Four Pillars Strategy; The pension system is focusing more money and attention on co-investment deals and separately managed accounts
Singh's Take: Calpers Steps Back From Four Pillars Strategy; The pension system is focusing more money and attention on co-investment deals and separately managed accounts

The nation's largest public pension system seems to be stepping back from an ambitious overhaul of its private-equity strategy outlined several years ago, even as it plows more capital into the asset class.

In 2020, the $445 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System committed $18 billion to private equity, more than 2½ times the $6.9 billion it committed to the asset class in 2019, according to a report presented to the pension by its private-equity consultant Meketa Investment Group. Almost 30% of the money went to co-investments and separately managed accounts, strategies of current focus, which Calpers expects will help it better manage costs associated with the portfolio, according to spokesman Wayne Davis.

Calpers has stepped back, at least for now, from an ambitious investment strategy developed several years ago by former chief investment officer Ted Eliopoulos, who left the fund in 2018, people familiar with the matter said. The "four pillars" strategy was expected to help Calpers deploy an additional $20 billion into private equity to reach an 8% target allocation to the asset class and generate gains that would better help the pension fund meet a 7% actuarial rate of return. As of Dec. 31, private equity represented 7% of the total pension portfolio, pension documents show.

Over the past year, and especially since Mr. Eliopoulos's successor, Ben Meng, resigned from Calpers in December, the pension fund has played down the "pillars" strategy even though private equity remains a core component of its investment portfolio, the people said.

Calpers originally unveiled the four pillars investment strategy back in 2018. Two of the four pillars were separate direct investment strategies that would receive a large portion of the additional $20 billion that would go to private equity. One strategy, dubbed "Innovation," would target direct investments in late-stage life sciences, technology and healthcare companies, while the other, called "Horizon," would back established business in core sectors of the economy. The other two pillars built on existing strategies of committing capital to fund investments, co-investments, separate accounts and emerging managers.

The ambitious plan required an overhaul in governance and oversight structures that, despite several rounds of presentations by investment staff and initial approval in concept by Calpers's board of trustees, never really progressed, the people said. The departures of both Mr. Eliopoulos and Mr. Meng left fewer advocates for the strategies, the people added.

"There is precious little upside in being too adventurous right now," one of the people said.

Mr. Davis said that although the two direct investment strategies remain in the Calpers "investment toolbox," the pension is currently focused on strengthening other parts of the private-equity portfolio.

Calpers pledged some $5.2 billion to co-investment deals and separately managed accounts during the second half of last year alone, the pension's performance report shows. The largest commitment of $1.5 billion went to a separate account managed by LongRange Capital, a midmarket private-equity firm launched in 2019 by Robert Berlin, a former managing director at Boston-based investment firm The Baupost Group.

The pension system has recruited senior leadership in recent years that will help move its private-equity program forward, the people said. Greg Ruiz has led the team for almost two years as managing investment director of Calpers's private-equity program, and last year the fund brought on Yup Kim as head of investments for private equity.

"The duo brings a lot of fresh energy to the private-equity investment program," one of the people said.

Write to Preeti Singh at