Top 20 pension executives: Debby Blakey, John Livanas

AsianInvestor has identified 20 outstanding executives who are driving the region's pension funds forward. Today, we feature leaders from two of Australia's superannuation funds -- HESTA and State Super.
Top 20 pension executives: Debby Blakey, John Livanas

The past three years have been filled with challenges for Asia Pacific’s pension funds, underscoring the need to modernise and improve their operations.

Some of these funds have risen to the challenge and AsianInvestor's Top 20 pensions executives list aims to recognise the change-makers of this industry.

Our list, drawn after speaking to pension fund experts, consultants, and independent editorial research  showcases outstanding executives who are the forefront of driving the pensions industry forward. 

Our list brings together an array of senior executives, from CEOs and CIOs to heads of responsible investing and equity chiefs.

The list is not a ranking nor is it meant to be exhaustive.

Our aim is to showcase the leaders that external experts and the editorial team believe are improving the regional pensions industry in terms of investing, operations, sustainability and accessibility as of 2023.

You can find more about the rationale for our list here.

We unveil our list with two top executives from Australia's super funds. 

Debby Blakey
Chief Executive Officer, Health Employees Superannuation Trust Australia (HESTA)

Debby Blakey, who  became HESTA's CEO in 2015, has made significant strides in improving the $47 billion (A$70 billion) fund's investment processes and has championed the empowerment of women through superannuation during her tenure.

Among recent highlights of HESTA's investment improvements is the successful internalisation of its fixed interest and cash teams, with a goal of managing at least 15% of the fund’s portfolio in-house.

This hybrid strategy aims to generate strong long-term investment performance at a lower cost, directly benefiting members.

“As part of HESTA’s ongoing efforts, we are on track to have half our active Australian equities money managed in-house over the next year, marking a significant milestone in our internal investment program,” Blakey told AsianInvestor. 

Blakey, who joined HESTA in 2008, has been instrumental in pushing for other key developments at the superannuation fund.

Among them was HESTA becoming the first major Australian super fund to commit to a climate change transition plan, setting a target to achieve net-zero by 2050. 

Blakey is also an outspoken advocate of the empowerment of women through superannuation and firmly believes that gender inequity does not just impact members directly, but is a systemic that affects the economy and investment performance.

“By championing women's empowerment through super, HESTA is encouraging more focus on improving financial outcomes for female members,” she said.

“The Super system is world-class, but its design continues to disadvantage certain groups, including women, who experience an intolerable level of economic insecurity in retirement.”

Before leading HESTA, Blakey was deputy CEO and headed the fund's financial advice team.

HESTA's focus remains firmly on its members, who are workers in health and comunity services and Blakey continues to be a leading advocate for the need to redefine the purpose of Australia's  retirement income system to eliminate longstanding inequities while committing to investing with impact.

John Livanas
Chief Executive Officer, State Super 

John Livanas has been at the helm of State Super since October 2011, and continues to impress industry peers for making consistent improvements to one of the oldest superannuation funds in Australia.

The $25 billion (A$38 billion) closed defined benefit fund was a top performer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and was also one of the few sovereign investors to post positive annual results through the pandemic.

Livanas attributes the success of the fund during the pandemic to strong leadership from the executive team.

“By focusing on downside protection, employee retention and motivation, and community interaction, the fund has been able to weather the storm of the pandemic and emerge in a strong position,” he told AsianInvestor.

Livanas has over 30 years’ industry experience, and has previously worked with the South African Government Employees Pension Fund – the precursor to the country’s sovereign fund – and several Australian superannuation funds including AMIST Super.

State Super has made notable improvements to its investment processes over the past few years under Livanas’ leadership, including a larger focus on risk management, and understanding risk exposure.

“We have also increased our use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to curate data for strategists managing the risk position of the portfolio,” he said.  

Livanas also noted a significant improvement in internal communications within the organisation, allowing for quicker implementation of due diligence and transactions.

These improvements have helped the organisation to manage risk more effectively and efficiently.

Livanas said there is a significant shift towards consumption-led GDP growth in Asia, which presents opportunities for investment for the fund.

“The demographics of Asia show a demographic dividend waiting to happen over the next 20 to 30 years, with countries like India and Vietnam in the middle of this shift,” he said.

Australia is well-placed to understand the links between Asia and the rest of the world, and the use of capital markets for pricing and allocation is still developing in many Asian countries, presenting further investment opportunities, he said.

Tomorrow, we feature another Australian fund executive and one from a Canadian pension fund.


¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.