Global Pension Powerhouses


ICPM is extremely excited to launch our new virtual series, Global Pension Powerhouses.

This series profiles the most powerful and experienced women in the pension industry, who handle $2.3 TRILLION USD combined assets and are the driving force behind some of the most innovative changes taking place in the pension industry. Hosted by ICPM Board Vice Chair Michelle Ostermann, these global leaders will give us a rare glimpse into their careers, giving the audience the opportunity gain inspiration from these incredible women.

Female leaders in the pension industry are rapidly on the rise, and these trailblazers undoubtedly have left their mark on the industry for the better.  The Interviews are short and to the point, following a rapid fire Q&A format, spanning under 30 minutes each. We encourage all of our Research Partners to view this series at their leisure, share it across their network, post access to it for their entire firm through their D&I portal perhaps, and learn from these incredible women, who are materially shaping a new and more diverse approach to managing pensions, spearheading a shift in diversity within the pension industry.

New episodes will be added regularly all throughout the month of March. 


Episode #1

Marcie Frost, CEO, CalPERS

Our first interview is with Marcie Frost, who has been the CEO of the California Public Employees' Retirement System for 4 ½ years. CALPERS is the largest public pension fund in the US as it serves more than 2 million public sector workers, manages almost $400B in assets and has over 2800 employees.  Marcie is responsible for all three lines of business, Pensions, Health Benefits, and Investments, and the $1.8B budget that goes with.  Before joining CALPERS Marcie spent 30 years at the very well-respected Washington State Investment Board where she ultimately led and chaired the $120B investment firm.

Episode #2

Barb Zvan, President and CEO, University Pension Plan Ontario

Our Second interview in ICPM's Global Pension Powerhouses series is Barb Zvan. Barb is the Inaugural President and Chief Executive Officer of the University Pension Plan Ontario (UPP) and former Chief Risk and Strategy Officer for the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.

Recognized as a leading voice on sustainable investing and an ambassador for defined benefit pensions, Barbara is known for her efforts to bring institutional strength to complex challenges and forge new collaborative pathways for innovation and growth. She serves on the boards of various global institutions and associations focused on pension management, risk and responsible investing, including the Global Risk Institute, Responsible Investment Association and the advisory board of the Institute of Sustainable Finance at the Smith School of Business. She was appointed to the Government of Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, is a member of the Advisory Committee for the new ‘Investing to Address Climate Change’ Charter and played a significant role in creating the G7 Investor Leadership Network.

Episode #3

Sue Brake, CIO, Future Fund

We are honoured to have Sue Brake with us for our third episode of Global Pension Powerhouses. Sue is the first ever female CIO at the Future Fund – Australia’s $220B national sovereign wealth fund. She leads a multi-disciplinary Investment team, making investments across all asset classes and geographies. In particular Sue focusses on the Fund’s ‘joined up’ investment process, brining together top down macro views and bottom up sector opportunities to construct the best overall portfolio.

Sue was previously the Future Fund’s Deputy CIO, responsible for economic and capital market analysis, emerging markets, dynamic beta management and portfolio construction. She joined the Future Fund in 2019 from Willis Towers Watson where she was Head of Strategic Advisory. Prior to this she worked as a Sr. Investment Strategist at NZ Super Fund in Auckland. Sue is also an external expert for the IMF on investment management and risk management for Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Episode #4

Sarah Owen, General Counsel & General Manager of Corporate Strategy, New Zealand Superannuation Fund

For our fourth session in our Pension Powerhouses series, we are fortunate to welcome Sarah Owen. Sarah is the General Counsel & General Manager of Corporate Strategy at the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. She sits of the firm’s Sr. Leadership Team and Risk Committee and has a very broad set of accountabilities and a lot of responsibility for her firm’s often imitated strategy and global reputation. She is responsible for the strategic development, legal, board secretariat and communications functions. Prior to joining the New Zealand Superannuation Fund Sarah practiced in corporate/commercial, financial services and public law in private practice and in-house. She is also a director of ICPM and Datacom Group Limited.

Post Listening:
During the episode, Sarah referenced some of her recent reading materials. The list includes: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and The Enigma of Reason by Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier.

Episode #5

Geraldine Leegwater, Chief Investment Management, PGGM

Our fifth episode of Global Pension Powerhouses features the impressive Geraldine Leegwater. Geraldine is Chief Investment Management and member of the Executive Committee of the Dutch pension fund service for PGGM. Prior to joining PGGM, Geraldine was Member of the Board of Trustees and chairperson of the Investment Committee of ABP, and was the first Chief Investment Officer of ABN AMRO Pensioenfonds, and later became the CEO of ABN AMRO Pensioenfonds.

Geraldine also served as a member of the Supervisory Investment Committee of the Dutch Central Bank and is an academic director for the executive education on pension and investment management and the ESAA/Erasmus University.

Episode #6

Rachel Elwell, CEO, Border to Coast Pension Partnership

For our sixth Global Pension Powerhouses episode, we welcome Rachel Elwell, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Border to Coast Pension Partnership.

Rachel has over twenty five years’ experience of working in pensions and institutional investment. Border to Coast is one of the companies that have been formed to help the Local Government Pension Scheme in England and Wales to pool assets, and went live in July 2018. Prior to joining Boarder to Coast, Rachel was a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers and, following that she was Staff Pensions and Investment Office Director at Royal London where she was responsible for both Royal London’s own pension arrangements and investment strategy and oversight of internal and external management of its insurance assets totalling £80B pounds.

Rachel was named Financial News 100 Most Influential Women in European Finance, in both of the last two years; and is on Investment Association Board, which is the UK’s asset managers trade association. She is also a member of the joint working party between the UK’s Investment Association and PLSA, which is looking to develop better working relationships and alignment between asset owners and investment managers, specifically in the area of sustainable value creation. Rachel is also a Cambridge math graduate and a qualified actuary.

Episode #7

Laura Chappell, CEO, Brunel Pension Partnership

This is the seventh in our series and we are interviewing the incredible Laura Chappell, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Brunel Pension Partnership. She’s been with Brunel since its inception in 2017. She and her team have the difficult task of erecting from scratch an investment business to manage £30B pounds of assets backing 10 local government pension schemes in the southwest of the UK.

Laura’s primary focus is on ensuring Brunel achieves its objectives as a fund manager and asset owner. Within that remit, she also passionately wants to see companies improve their sustainability, embedding it in their culture and their broader strategy, so that long-term profitability goes hand-in-hand with being a force for good in the world.

She has over 25 years’ experience within asset management. The majority of this has been within institutional fund management, most notably eight years at Barclays Global Investors (now BlackRock), and subsequently at M&G, Schroders and Brewin Dolphin.

Episode #8

Francine van Dierendonck, Member Executive Board, APG Group

This is the eighth in our series and we are interviewing Francine van Dierendonck who is a member of the Executive Board of APG Group, which is the largest pension manager in the Netherlands. Francine is a member of the Executive Board of APG Group and responsible for Participant and Employer Services and Funds business. APG is the largest pension administrator in Europe with over 4.5 million members, 8 pensions funds and managing € 570 billion.

Besides her work for APG Francine is also Member of the Supervisory Board of Royal Haskowning DHV, an international engineering consultancy and expert in sustainable development and innovation.

Before APG, Francine was CEO of Xenos – a large Dutch retail firm. She has extensive experience in running and transforming complex operations, with expertise in marketing, sales, e-commerce, technology and digital transformation. She holds a MSc. in biotech engineering - lives in Amsterdam and is married and has 3 sons.

Episode #9

Theresa Whitmarsh, Executive Director, Washington State Investment Board

This is the ninth in our series and we're chatting with Theresa Whitmarsh, who is Executive Director of the Washington State Investment Board.

Washington State Investment Board is one of the leading institutional investors in the United States, managing $165 billion of state pension, insurance, and other assets. The WSIB is a leader in private asset investing, with private equity, real estate, and tangible assets comprising just over 45 percent of its retirement portfolio.

Theresa joined the WSIB in 2003 with 20 years of experience in business, government, and media. Theresa is a past Chair of the Council of Institutional Investors and the Pacific Pension & Investment Institute, and she is also a former director of the International Centre for Pension Management, and a former external advisor on the ABP Investment Committee. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership and as a member of the Investor Industries – World Economic Forum Steering Committee. She is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Long Term Investing, and a FCLT Global Board member.

Episode #10

Helen Dean, CEO, National Employment Savings Trust (NEST)

Our tenth interview features the incredible Helen Dean, who is the Chief Executive Officer of NEST Pensions here in the UK.

Helen is the CEO of one of the largest pension schemes in the UK – NEST (National Employment Savings Trust). More impressively, she is one of the architects responsible for having devised and erected this relatively new firm. Thirteen years ago Helen and her team were tasked with coming up with a solution to the UK’s chronic under-saving in pensions. They had a blank piece of paper and a very big challenge – to build a low-cost, high-quality pension scheme from scratch.

With almost 10 million members, NEST is now the largest pension scheme by membership and the first of its kind in the UK. Although it’s currently responsible for managing only £16B in assets, by the end of the next decade it is projected have over £100B assets under management.

Helen has been with NEST from the very beginning, in a number of roles before she was appointed CEO in 2015. Helen is also a Trustee and Non-Executive board member of Step Change, a member of: the Council of Scholar Advisors, the Centre for Recruitment Initiatives at Georgetown University, and the Advisory Board to the Money and Pensions Service a Governor of the Pensions Policy Institute UK.

Recently, Helen was awarded a CBE in the 2021 New Year Honours list for her significant services to the UK pension industry. Most impressively, she is a huge supporter of women in pensions, Helen has signed the Women in Finance Charter on behalf of NEST, overseen the creation of NEST’s first diversity group and published NEST’s gender pay report – as well as a mentor to many.

Episode #11

Marlene Puffer, President and CEO, CN Investment Division

For the eleventh interview in our series we spoke with Marlene Puffer, who is the President and CEO of the CN Investment Division, which manages the assets of one of the largest corporate pension funds in Canada.

Marlene has more than 25 years’ experience in investments, pensions and capital markets at a variety of financial institutions and in academia. She is not only the CEO of CN’s $18B portfolio but also the former vice-chair of the Board of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (or, HOOPP as it’s more commonly known), where she was a Trustee for almost ten years. She is a passionate advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion, and is specifically focussed on related initiatives through her role as a Board Member of the Pacific Pension and Investment Institute – and is the past president of Women in Capital Markets – which is Canada’s preeminent association for advancing women in the finance industry.

Marlene holds a Ph.D. in Finance and Applied Statistics from the University of Rochester, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Economics from the University of Toronto. She is also a CFA charterholder, and holds the Institute of Corporate Directors ICD.D designation.

Episode #12

Kim Thomassin, Executive Vice-President and Head of Investments in Québec and Stewardship Investing, CDPQ

Next in our Global Pension Powerhouses series we are fortunate to welcome Kim Thomassin of CDPQ, who has been Executive Vice-President and Head of Investments in Québec and Stewardship Investing since April 2020. She is a member of the Executive Committee and the Investment-Risk Committee, and sits on the Board of Ivanhoé Cambridge, CDPQ’s global real estate subsidiary.

Prior to her current position, Kim held the role of Executive Vice-President, Legal Affairs and Secretariat, Compliance and Stewardship Investing at CDPQ. Before joining CDPQ in 2017, Kim was National Client Leader and Managing Partner for the Québec Region at McCarthy Tétrault. In her 17 years at the firm, she held various important positions and specialized in project finance and acquisition transactions in the energy and infrastructure sectors.

Further, Kim sits on the Boards of Directors of Ceres and Alstom and is also Campaign Cabinet Co-President of The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. In addition, she was one of four members of an expert panel on sustainable finance set up by the federal government to engage with Canadian business experts. Lastly, and most notably, in 2019 Kim was named to the Chambers GC Influencers Global 100, a distinction that recognizes the leadership and contributions of heads of legal departments around the world.

Episode #13

Anca Drexler, EVP & Head of Total Portfolio Management, OMERS

Anca Drexler, who is the is Executive Vice-President and Head of Total Portfolio Management at OMERS, joins us on our last episode of the Global Pension Powerhouses series. Anca and leads a team focused on asset allocation, liquidity and currency management for OMERS total investing portfolio.

Having joined the organization in 2017, Anca was previously Managing Director, Risk Management for OMERS Capital Markets, leading risk activities in support of the firm’s capital markets investments.

Anca has over 23 years of experience in the financial industry. Before joining OMERS she was an investment advisor to the Asset-Liability Management Committee of the Health Care of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) Board of Trustees and an executive in residence with the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services. (GRI). Anca spent 15 years at OPTrust, a large public sector defined benefit pension plan, in a number of leadership roles, including Chief Risk Officer.

An alumna of the Harvard Business School, Anca also holds a MMath from the University of Waterloo and a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto. She is a CFA charter holder.

Anca is actively committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, supporting OMERS Women in Leadership program, as well as through mentorship within Women in Capital Markets. She is also a member of the Investment Committee for the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada.

Referenced During Interview:

Podcast: Last 8% Morning
Investor Leadership Network - Diversity in Investment