The NZ$38 billion ($26.2 billion) New Zealand Super Fund has appointed Matt Whineray as its new chief executive officer, effective from July 1. His promotion from chief investment officer follows a global search for a successor to Adrian Orr, who resigned from the fund in December last year.

Whineray has been acting CEO of the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, the Super Fund's governing body, since March 2018.

Commenting on the decision after a six-month search, the chair of NZ Super, Catherine Savage, described Whineray as “the stand-out candidate amongst a high quality field of international applicants."

"He has been instrumental in the Guardians’ successes over the last decade and is recognised globally as a leader in institutional investment,” she said.

Commenting on his appointment, Whineray told AsianInvestor that as NZ Super is a long-term fund , his priorities would include a review of the fund’s investment discipline.

“We are reviewing our long-term target state, to ensure that we are ready as an organisation to deal with the forecast growth of the fund and the restart of government contributions.”

He added that “a big area of work in recent years has been on culture and people,” both in terms of the internal  team’s diversity and its engagement with stakeholders, and that would continue.

A new CIO for the fund has yet to be appointed. In the interim, Whineray said Mark Fennell will continue as acting CIO, adding that no decision has been made regarding the CIO appointment process, but that would be another of his priorities.

The CEO appointment followed the announcement in December last year that the Orr was to become governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand after 10 years at the helm of the NZ Super Fund.

Orr was a formidable leader of the fund and an active proponent of good governance in the management of sovereign assets, which is why he was given the award for Best Individual Contribution to Institutional Investment in the 2017 AsianInvestor Institutional Excellence Awards.

A global, publicly-advertised search process was conducted during the final months of his tenure, which ended in March. Whineray’s working knowledge of the fund and his close working relationship with Orr would have been hard to overlook though; and so it proved. So by the end of March, with the fund still advertising for applicants to fill the post, it became increasingly likely that Whineray would get the CEO job.

The fund has returned 10% per annum (after costs, before NZ tax) since inception in 2003. Over the same period the Guardians’ active investment strategies have added 1.5% (about NZ$7 billion) per year to the fund, over and above what a passive, market-based approach would have done. 

The change at the top comes at a time when the country's new coalition government has confirmed it will re-commence making capital contributions to the fund. The previous government suspended the contributions in 2009, which at the time were worth NZ$2 billion ($1.37 billion) a year.

Whineray became CIO of the Super Fund in 2014, overseeing the group responsible for the fund’s portfolio construction and investment activity in listed and unlisted markets, both directly and through investment managers.

During this time he developed the fund’s climate change investment strategy, risk allocation process and risk budget framework, strengthening its international direct investment capabilities in the process.

Before joining the Guardians, Whineray was at Credit Suisse (Hong Kong) where he was head of financial sponsor coverage for non-Japan Asia. Prior to this, he was a managing director at First NZ Capital in New Zealand and a vice president at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York. Whineray began his career as a barrister and solicitor with Russell McVeagh in Auckland.