Incoming Future Fund chief investment officer Ben Samild says he is “very excited” to take the reins of the $250 billion portfolio, despite – or perhaps because of – the challenging investing environment.
The Future Fund Board of Guardians on Wednesday announced Samild had been promoted to the CIO role, which was vacated abruptly by Sue Brake in June 2022 and has been dually held by CEO Raphael Arndt since.
A Future Fund spokesperson declined a request to interview Samild, given the fund’s annual results are due to be disclosed within weeks. But in a public statement, the new CIO said he was “very passionate” about the role played by the fund, which manages a long-term portfolio on behalf of the Australian government.
“Having spent a significant amount of time leading the research and strategic orientation on the impact of contemporary global challenges to the investment environment, I am very excited to be able to steward the portfolio at this critical juncture,” he said.
Samild, who once harboured ambitions of becoming a neuro-psychologist, joined the Future Fund from LUCRF Super in 2013 to head the debt and alternatives portfolio. In the role, he oversaw the fund’s hedge fund and absolute returns strategies, utilising the insights gained working for the Connecticut-based Elysium Technology, which runs a US$200 billion macro hedge fund, in the early 2000s.
“Absolutely we think a certain kind of hedge fund alternative asset has a really important part to play, it can be hard to communicate that and for stakeholders to understand that,” Samild told the Investment Magazine Absolute Returns Conference in 2021.
He is also a noted advocate of the Future Fund’s so-called “joined up” strategy, akin to the total portfolio approach. “You can’t run the kind of investment program we do without the culture of ‘one portfolio’ in place from the beginning,” he told the conference.
In April, Samild told the UK-based MoneyMaze podcast that the “joined up” approach fundamentally changed investment decisions, compared to running portfolios at an asset manager or even an asset owner with a different business model to that of the Future Fund, which has a single client and no outflows or inflows.
“[You have to] understand the total portfolio, how it interacts with different types of risk, return, duration, liquidity, and everything in between,” he said. “The hedge fund program, for example, was a long, long, long way away from how I would have run a [typical] hedge fund portfolio.”
He told the podcast he was “excited” about investing in the current and coming climate in which a slew of macroeconomic conditions are expected to make the “job a lot harder”, joking that he may be a little “masochistic”.
In its statement announcing Samild’s promotion, the Future Fund said it had conducted a “comprehensive global search in accordance with governance processes”. But multiple industry sources described Samild as the “frontrunner” for the position.
One veteran portfolio manager said the Future Fund’s total portfolio strategy was so ingrained in its process that it significantly increased the likelihood of an internal candidate being selected.
In announcing the decision, Future Fund CEO Raphael Arndt indicated Samild’s primacy to the “joined up” approach was a key factor.
“Ben has significantly contributed to the direction and performance of the portfolio and has driven our whole portfolio investment approach,” Arndt said. “I look forward to our strong investment performance continuing under his leadership.”
Future Fund Board of Guardians chair Peter Costello, who as federal Treasurer in the late 1990s and early 2000s was a driving force behind the sovereign wealth fund’s establishment, added: “Ben brings a strong understanding of the Future Fund as a long-term investor. He has played an important role in supporting the board’s focus on generating returns while managing risk and I am pleased that he will now step up to lead the investment program.”
Alicia Gregory will retain her role as deputy CIO (private markets), while Hugh Murray, the fund’s head of overlays, has been named acting deputy CIO for portfolio construction, the role most recently held by Samild since last year.
The move is the first of a number of influential leadership changes coming for the Future Fund, with the chair role and three board seats expected to become vacant this financial year.