The Korea Investment Corporation, a $25 billion sovereign wealth fund, has apparently found its next chief investment officer: Scott Kalb, an emerging-markets investment specialist who has spent the past six years running a hedge fund based outside of New York.
This news comes from several well-placed sources in Seoul.
Kalb will replace Guan Ong, a Malaysian national who has relocated to Singapore with his family after three years as the KIC's inaugural CIO. Ong helped lead the establishment of local investment teams that could operate in international markets, marking a substantial investment in the future of global investment expertise in Korea.
The firm had only gradually been extending investments into traditional equities and fixed income, and its performance has been relatively decent, considering market conditions. Although any loss at the KIC makes it vulnerable to being used as a domestic political whipping boy, there is only one investment that KIC insiders truly regret: the $2 billion stake in Merrill Lynch acquired in January 2008.
In theory, the KIC's CEO and president, Chin Young-wook, is meant to handle the politics, but inevitably the investment team comes under scrutiny in democratic Korea. The CIO job will require someone to enhance performance, oversee more moves into global exposures (including real estate and distressed opportunities), train and nurture talent, improve outsourcing processes, boost relations with its shareholders (the Bank of Korea and the Ministry of Finance), and defend the institution against Korea's bruising politics and media.
For all of these reasons, the KIC has sought a foreigner for the role, someone who, like Ong, is seen as a seasoned professional who can bring the right mix of skills and know-how, and is regarded as well above politics or the slightest whiff of corruption.
Sources report getting a Westerner was considered ideal, although evidently there are two Korean candidates that made the final shortlist. The timetable for Kalb's formal appointment and move to Korea is not yet known.
Until last year, Scott Kalb was co-manager of Balyasny Asset Management in Greenwich, Connecticut, along with Sandeep Bhammer. Kalb has been at Balyasny since 2002. From 2002 till 2006, he and Bhammer had also managed a Cayman Islands-based open-ended fund, the Black Arrow Global Equity Fund. The fund evidently remains a going concern under the Balyasny name. The firm says Kalb left some time last year and it did not know of his whereabouts.
Balyasny Asset Management was established in 2001 by Dmitry Balyasny, a former Schonfeld Securities trader, as a multi-strategy investment firm. It has offices in Chicago, New York, London and Mumbai, as well as Greenwich.
Prior to this, Kalb was director for Asia ex-Japan equities and emerging markets at Tudor Investment Corporation in the US; and managing director at Smith Barney International Asset Management in New York, where he covered Latin America, getting his first working experience in emerging markets.
He also boasts Korea experience, as director and country head in Seoul for the now-defunct British brokerage James Capel. He also did a university exchange programme in Korea in 1978-1980.