Profile Check: The Hartford Investment Club

October 12
7:07 AM 2016

"It's going to be fun - you have to come!" Hartford Healthcare CIO David Holmgren and Neuberger Berman were throwing a party for the investing elite. 

Holmgren is the investment chief of $3 billion in insurance, hospital endowment, and pension assets, is by now popular for his unusual investments-like, stakes in a British menswear line and luxury Italian shoemaker via a consumer brand licensing strategy he seeded last year. But as anyone who's attended Hartford Hospital's annual Black & Red charity gala (for which Holmgren has been a recurring committee member) could tell you, the CIO is also fond of a good party.

Offering warm welcomes and introductions to lots of talented investors present, Holmgren embraced his role as the host wearing only jeans and a sporting scruffy beard. Among his guest and new connected acquaintances are Aetna CIO Jean LaTorre, Textron's Charles Van Vleet and many others.

The party is held at the Hartford's Infinity Hall, featuring buffet table with tacos, mac and cheese, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Later that evening the Grammy-nominated band Roomful of Blues would perform.

 "Building relationships is one of the most important things we do as investors," Holmgren says, when we meet again in midtown Manhattan-this time over coffee instead of cocktails. The Hartford soiree-a gathering of institutional investors devoid of the blatant sales pitches found at virtually every other event catering to the investing industry-embodied this mind-set: a party thrown simply for the sake of having a party, where local allocators could socialize, drink wine, and listen to blues music.

Aside from the Infinity Hall party, a number of these investing elite gather once a month to share insights, describe the investment challenges they're facing, and weigh market opportunities. However, these meetings come with a few rules: Managers invited to present, for example, cannot pitch funds or solicit investors in any way. Topics covered at the meetings must also focus on investment themes, not specific products. And the presentations themselves are purely oral-there's no accompanying slides or handouts.

The latest of these meetings is hosted again by Holmgren focused on hedged real estate. "The purpose is to bring together investment officers in the community to discuss a relevant theme or issue," explains Holmgren, "It's so helpful and important to get a second set of eyes-not just from friends or peers, but from the perspectives of different types of plan sponsors."

Among the investors present at Holmgren's real estate presentation was Joe Fazzino, a senior manager at United Technologies. Fazzino agrees wholeheartedly with the hospital CIO on the value of their shared network. "I'm learning from other people's experiences; I'm hearing what other people are looking for in the marketplace; I'm listening for what other people see as opportunities," he says. "The group we have here in Hartford is a very vocal group-they are not afraid to ask questions or shoot down ideas. There's always lots of firing back and forth of conversation and good dialogue."

The Hartford group has different array of fund types thus, members have contrasting opinions on the table. "Our goal is to learn from one another, to talk about our experiences, to question one another, and just basically gather insight," the UTC manager says.

 "I'm from a corporate plan; I have a large pension liability that I'm constantly managing against, so I'm talking about interest-rate risk, liability-driven investing, and different corporate initiatives," Fazzino continues. "But an allocator from a foundation will have a totally different spin on what they're looking at and what's important to them. It's valuable to have those different perspectives."

Having different approach has helped Holmgren to strengthen his diligence. He's even taken to inviting other asset owners along on his manager meetings, bringing corporate CIOs along with him to evaluate fixed-income managers and accompanying sovereign wealth fund CEOs on hedge fund visits.

"It doesn't matter if they ultimately invest in the fund or not," he explains. "It's about getting someone I'm not paying to let me know what they think."

It's not that Holmgren can't and doesn't have professional advice-Hartford Healthcare has a few investment consultants in its employ. But he says, "Every resource needs to be tapped if we're to fulfill our goals."

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