AsianInvestor's Top 10 sovereign wealth fund (SWF) executives in Asia list is aimed at recognising exceptional senior executives -- from CEOs and CIOs to alternatives and sustainability specialists -- responsible for leading the industry’s growth and development.
With the right governance structures in place, SWFs can be particularly valuable in preserving and growing a nation's savings.
We believe it is important to acknowledge the role key individuals play in boosting the influence of SWFs in the region, especially as these entities are set to grow in importance in coming years.
It's also important to recognise that not all SWFs are the same – they can have vastly different mandates and investment goals. AsianInvestor recognised those differences as we created our list.
You can find out more about the rationale for our Top 10 SWF executives in Asia list here.
Today, we showcase two senior executives from Australia and Bhutan.
Chief investment officer, Future Fund
As chief investment officer of Australia's Future Fund, Ben Samild has been pivotal in the Australian sovereign wealth fund's evolution, particularly over the last three years.
His leadership tenure, commencing as one of three deputy CIOs and culminating in his promotion to CIO in August 2023, is marked by a series of strategic enhancements and steadfast navigation through the uncertainties of global finance.
Samild’s influence has been crucial in the Future Fund’s reinvigoration of the ‘joined-up whole portfolio’ investment approach.
The 'total portfolio approach' has been an integral part of Future Fund strategy since it was established in 2006 and stands in contrast to the strategic asset allocation favoured by many large asset owners.
The more holistic view of the portfolio enables capital to be quickly reallocated across asset classes in response to emerging market opportunities.
The fund's risk management has also been refined via the integration of an overlay programme into the total portfolio approach, ensuring that diversification is strategically aligned with performance objectives.
This unique approach was evident in the financial year 2023 that ended on June 30, as the fund repositioned its portfolio with over A$60 billion of changes, actively responding to a more complex and volatile investment environment.
“This year I intend to embed and evolve changes in both our investment process and portfolio to build resilience across both the investment team and the portfolio,” he told AsianInvestor.
Samild's tenure has also witnessed the Future Fund increase domestic exposure within the Asia Pacific.
Investments such as a significant stake in Sydney Airport and an additional investment in Tilt Renewables, which funded the construction of the Rye Park Wind Farm, underscore this strategy.
In addressing Asia, and particularly China's economic influence, Samild is mindful of the geopolitical currents that could influence investment outlays.
The Future Fund aims to anticipate and respond to major economic shifts such as decarbonisation and geopolitical realignments, with a deepened understanding of risk premia in Asia being a focal point.
Samild says his priorities for the years ahead will include continuing to build both the hardiness of the portfolio while maintaining the flexibility to respond to opportunities as they emerge.
Under Samild's guidance, the Future Fund has adopted a philosophy of innovation and forward-thinking leadership in line with its commitment to growth while constantly adapting to a complex global economy.
Ujjwal Deep Dahal
Chief executive officer, Druk Holding and Investments
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan’s de facto sovereign wealth fund, Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), is an impressive example of a catalytic wealth fund – one that looks to protect wealth and promote national development.
DHI has five focus areas for investment -- infrastructure, digital assets, mining and minerals, especially ecofriendly and green mining, energy resources and technology.
Steering the sustainabilty-minded sovereign entity is Chief Executive Ujjwal Deep Dahal.
An engineer who is also equipped with a business management degree, Dahal keenly understands the importance of technology and sustainability in DHI’s investment strategy and has been leading efforts to bring the tiny kingdom into the digital age.
He is considered instrumental in bringing together DHI, Bhutan Foundation USA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to launch a Super Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) in Bhutan, which opened in 2022.
This facility is the second of its kind in the world, outside of the US, and the fourth in the world, boasting advanced capabilities in research and prototyping.
Dahal is also an advocate of digital assets and has steered DHI towards cautiously backing cryptocurrencies.
“Bitcoin investing is a very tactical investment for us to help us ‘leapfrog’ the economy into a more digitally advanced era,” Dahal told AsianInvestor, noting that digital assets, nevertheless, account for a very small portion of the investment portfolio.
“Beyond bitcoin, we believe in the fundamental technology that drives cryptocurrrencies, which is blockchain,” Dahal said.
That’s a view shared by many family offices that AsianInvestor has spoken to as well.
“Given the interest of the next generation in this space, we feel digital assets is an area we cannot ignore,” he said.
DHI has also inked a bitcoin mining agreement – already operational -- with Singapore-based crytominer Bitdeer to mine cryptocurrency in the landlocked South Asian nation.
Given the immense usage of power in bitcoin mining, DHI is extremely mindful about the mining process.
“Every bitcoin that is mined is generated via green hydropower,” Dahal noted.
Bhutan is also one of the few carbon-neutral countries in the world and Dahal is keen to ensure the country's status stays that way, even as it scouts for future growth opportunities.
The de facto SWF has about 23 companies in its portfolio with various shareholding levels. Areas of interest include aviation, telecommunications, energy generation, transmission and distribution and banking -- all of which are managed with an eye on promoting sustainable local economic growth.
“Some of these shareholdings are very strategic to the country’s resources,” Dahal said.
The fund focuses on investments that can encourage foreign capital to come into Bhutan via direct investments or partnerships.
“We will also invest via DHI depending on the deal/project in our key focus areas. How we raise and build partnerships in terms of financing projects will depend on a case-to-case basis,” he added.
Future plans include potential overseas investments, although these plans are in their early stages.
“We have a subsidiary in Singapore. We are also considering how to grow in India, which is an important market since 90% of Bhutan’s trade is with India,” Dahal said.
Australia is also on the radar, especially for agricultural technology, he added.