BNY Mellon Asset Management has clarified that Don Russell is no longer in a sales role with the firm, following his appointment as chair of the $38 billion NSW State Super defined benefit fund.

Russell joined BNY Mellon Asset Management last year in an institutional sales role, but has since become ‘global investment strategist’. The transition from sales to strategy was a “natural progression” that accelerated after he earned the chartered financial analyst accreditation last year, Russell said. He already held a PhD from the London School of Economics.

At presstime, Russell had attended his first State Super meeting and said an initial responsibility was to help find a new chief executive for the secretariat, to replace the outgoing Don McLean. The new chair played a straight bat to widespread rumours the fund is calling back $2-3 billion invested in two trusts implemented by NSW Treasury Corporation (TCorp), one managed by high-conviction global equities managers and one by ‘emerging’ Australian equities managers. Those trusts are lower-fee replications of the High Alpha and Emerging Managers trusts offered by TCorp’s asset consultant, InTech.

State Super dropped InTech in favour of Frontier Investment Consulting in 2006, and TCorp may be about to do the same – market sources indicate that Frontier and JANA Investment Advisers have been shortlisted in TCorp’s current asset consulting review.

At BNY Mellon AM, Russell said he was a “resource for clients”, relating the funds run by BNY Mellon’s 16 managers to market conditions and the construction of clients’ portfolios. “It involves taking the economic outlook as a starting point and asks what it means for spreads and the attractiveness of an asset class, and to put these in the context of current and likely market developments.

“There’s a position for someone to explain and understand products and strategies and to put these in context of current and likely market developments. “We have a wide variety of clients, and the larger the client, the more complex their business becomes, and the role that you can have with them becomes greater,” Russell said.

This work in strategy also had the potential to correlate with his duties at State Super. “What I spend my day-to-day job doing can be of interest and relevance to the board of State Super.” Russell entered the industry in late 1996 with Bernstein, after being Australia’s ambassador to the US from 1993 until 1995. Prior to this, he was principal adviser to Paul Keating in his years as Treasurer and Prime Minister.

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