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Departing OPTrust CEO cites interference by board

OPTrust manages the pension assets of Ontario public sector workers who are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/CP

The new CEO of the OPTrust pension plan has departed after less than a year on the job, leaving the $14-billion investment fund looking for new leadership.

Veteran investment executive Stephen Griggs, who joined OPTrust last summer as the organization's first chief executive officer, issued a rare public statement Tuesday complaining about interference by the fund's board of trustees and criticizing its members for a lack of business and investment expertise.

He said he left Monday after concluding that he and the board would not be able to agree on key strategic matters, saying the board "continues to be involved in day-to-day operations and decision making."

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"There were a number of incidents that made it very clear to me that the board was disagreeing with me on a number of important strategic and operational and people issues," Mr. Griggs said in an interview Tuesday.

"I'm sure they had their reasons for what they are doing, but after a number of difficult conversations it was clear it was time for me to leave."

OPTrust manages the pension assets of Ontario public sector workers who are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). The organization's 10-member board of trustees includes five OPSEU members and five people appointed by the Ontario government. It is headed by Maurice Gabay, who works at OPSEU as the union's accountant.

Mr. Gabay said Tuesday that he could not comment in detail on Mr. Grigg's departure, but said the board takes governance seriously. He said OPTrust is a fully funded pension plan in an era when so many other public sector plans have large shortfalls.

"So the model does seem to work," he noted.

Mr. Gabay also said he believes the board of trustees is well-constituted and has members with "a wealth of investment experience." The board includes Tony Ross, former vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch Canada; Vicki Ringelberg, former chief financial officer at mutual fund company AIC Ltd.; and Tracie Crook, former CEO of ResMor Trust Co.

Mr. Griggs previously headed the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, which is a coalition of major institutional investors that lobby for better board governance practices at Canada's largest corporations. Before joining the CCGG in 2008, he was CEO of investment firm Legg Mason Canada and had executive roles at mutual fund companies AIC and BPI Financial Corp.

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OPTrust previously operated without a CEO and the board of trustees managed the organization directly, acting as its CEO. Mr. Gabay said the board last year decided to move to a more traditional "governance" rather than "management" model and hire a professional CEO.

He said the board is committed to its new role and is not managing daily operations. He said OPTrust will seek a new CEO to replace Mr. Griggs, and will not go back to the old oversight structure.

On an interim basis, Mr. Gabay and vice-chairman Scott Campbell will share the duties as president and CEO. Mr. Campbell is a former chief information officer in the Ontario government.

Mr. Griggs says he is still assessing what he will do next. "I'll probably take a short period of time off but I expect I'll be back in the investment business at some point," he said.

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About the Author
Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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