Korean sovereign wealth fund KIC is searching for a new CIO after incumbent Lee Dong-ik quit. It is  the second high-profile resignation at the institution within the past few months.

Lee had been nominated to a three-year term as chief investment officer back in 2012. His term was due to expire in April 2015.

Only late last year he had been required to assume duties as KIC president and CEO on an interim basis after Choi Chong-suk resigned for personal reasons on October 21.

The firm subsequently appointed Ahn ‘Hank’ Hong-Chul in the role last month after he was nominated internally by KIC’s search committee. That represented a return to KIC for Ahn, who served as the sovereign wealth fund’s first auditor between 2005 and 2008.

With 15 months still left to run on his three-year term, the reasons behind Lee’s departure are not clear, although there is a strong suspicion that he resigned in agreement with Ahn to allow the new CEO to continue building KIC with a fresh slate.

It is understood that Lee will work as a full-time adviser for KIC for the next three months until April. Thereafter he will take a break before pursuing further opportunities within asset management.

AsianInvestor selected Lee as CIO of the year at its Korea country awards 2013. His promotion to CIO had been questioned at first, yet Lee set about reorganising KIC internally, dividing its investment teams by asset class, rather than function as in the past.

He merged internal and external equity management to enable them to share ideas, showcasing his inclusive approach to markets and encouraging his team to learn from external expertise. He also shelved strategies that were hurting performance, which included balanced funds.

AsianInvestor also selected KIC as institutional investor of the year at our 2013 Korea awards. The sovereign wealth fund reported an 11.8% return on investment in what was a tough environment in 2012 (66bp over benchmark), primarily from global equity, fixed income and asset allocation. Its AUM increased 32% year on year.

Lee was, in fact, the first Korean national to serve the sovereign wealth fund as CIO, following in the footsteps of American Scott Kalb and Malaysian Guan Ong, who ran Blue Rice Investment Management from 2009 until late last year, when he decided to close its two credit-focused funds and return capital to investors.

Lee initially joined KIC as head of its private market group in 2008. He worked as head of alternative investments prior to becoming CIO.

KIC has announced that the new CIO search process will begin immediately. In the interim, Rhee Kee Hong has been appointed acting CIO.

Rhee has been with KIC since 2006. Most recently he served as chief representative of KIC’s New York office between June and December last year.

Prior to that, he headed the investment strategy group and also served as head of the public markets group, overseeing management of equities and fixed income investment.

Rhee has also worked as a portfolio manager at Samsung Life Insurance, an equity analyst at HSBC Securities in Seoul and has also run overseas investment at the Korea Federation of Community Credit Cooperatives.

KIC had $61.6 billion in assets under management as at March 31 last year, by AsianInvestor numbers.