Willis Towers Watson has recruited Sue Brake, one of the people who put together the governance structure for the launch of NZ Super and a former adviser to the IMF, in a senior consulting role based in Sydney.
Brake started this month in a role which she describes as “across the board, with an emphasis on governance and organizational structures”.
It may not sound as exciting as, say, looking to shoot the lights out in equities management, but governance matters. It matters a lot. According to some of the early work from Keith Ambachtsheer, the Canadian academic who specializes in pensions management, the gains for a fund from having the right governance structure can be shown to be between 100-200bps a year.
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund, now with assets of more than A$30 billion, usually ranks within the top three or four in the world of sovereign wealth funds, as it is generally considered, for both sophistication and transparency. This is according to the various specialist information and research firms, such as the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a commercial exercise based in the US.
Brake recalled last week, after her appointment at Willis Towers Watson (WTW) was announced, that in the very early days at NZ Super, Tim Mitchell, who was the NZ Treasury analyst assigned to the role to help set up the fund, invited her to help out.
Australia’s Paul Costello was brought in to be the first chief executive in 2003. He was the NZ-born chief executive of the Superannuation Trust of Australia at the time, which went on to form, with the Australian Retirement Fund, Australia’s largest super fund, AustralianSuper
Costello became, a few years later, the first chief executive of Australia’s Future Fund, espousing many of the governance values and processes that Brake believed in and helped implement in New Zealand. Mitchell now works for WTW in the UK, which has a bit to do with her recruitment you’d expect.
Her new role in Sydney followed the departure of Graeme Miller, who was the head of investment consulting at WTW, to Telstra Super, where he is CIO. “They needed another senior person following Graeme’s departure,” she said. She reports to Miller’s replacement, Martin Goss.
While at NZ Super Brake was allowed to consult part time to the International Monetary Fund, where she provided advice on the establishment of other sovereign wealth funds. “Everything always came back to governance,” she said. “And with countries setting up sovereign wealth funds, it usually went back to their governing laws.”
What ‘governance’ means is being clear about your investment beliefs and then anchoring the management to those beliefs.
“Australia,” Brake said, “is a vibrant happening market.” With her husband and two daughters, she is now ensconced in Sydney.