Director of Real Assets, Texas Municipal
Retirement System (Austin, TX)
Tom’s real estate performance has consistently
been well above the benchmark.
How have you been a change agent at
your organization? What have you done
that you’re particularly proud of?
By mixing a little bit of irreverence and
impatience, embracing the impractical, and
leveraging trust earned among colleagues,
our institution has moved from being problematic for asset managers to work with to
TMRS becoming a preferred investor—I
am immensely proud of this. Taking the next
step to being an excellent investor is a challenge yet before us.
What is the asset class or investment
that keeps you up at night, and why?
Real Return (e.g., infrastructure, energy,
etc.). The context upon which the “asset
class” was largely built, inflation sensitivity,
is fallacious. TIPS aren’t leveraged to inflation, natural resources are too cyclical to be
valuation agnostic, wage inflation is neither
broadly cyclical nor secular in nature, etc…
but, insomnia is ok. I rather enjoy staring
into dark space whilst considering my career
hinges on an asset class that is plausibly a fad.
What methodologies have you adopted
within your institution?
Build rather than integrate is the operative
word. TMRS has been a tremendous opportunity to build front-, middle-, and back-office functions effectively from scratch. We
hope to be the institution we should be rather
than the one that came to be.
Where do you fall in the passive vs.
Passive leaning, while acknowledging some
types of investments demand active man-
agement. There are two principal things as
an institutional investor I don’t want to do:
1) utilize heuristic-driven decision-making
processes; or 2) invoke the word “strategic”
to justify being valuation-agnostic or failing
to filter through self-serving BS pitched by
What are the changes you’d like to see
the institutional investing community
make in 10 years?
I’d like to see institutions increasingly bet on
themselves. The asset management industry makes money by obfuscating information—simply demanding transparency is
not enough to fix this. If institutions will first
resource appropriately and subsequently
execute better, we may get a more appropriately sized slice of the pie.
Who is a manager you don’t currently
work with whose brain you’d like to
Allowing for historical figures and utilizing a
liberal definition of “manager,” I would say
Cornelius Vanderbilt. I’ve frequently consid-
ered that were I reincarnated coming back
to be a turn-of-the-20th century industrial-
ist or a 1980s investment banker would be
appealing. I say this because I consider these
careers to be at inflection points in capitalis-
tic society, time periods rife with both com-
pensatory opportunity and a need for ethical
leadership. Vanderbilt’s capacity for build-
ing businesses, penchant for market manipu-
lation, and hearing stories from his extraor-
dinary life would be an excellent education
for either of my fantastical career pursuits
(or current one)—and a welcome departure
from an otherwise drab and straight-laced
existence as a public servant.
Ideally, where would that meeting take
On a steamship.
What is the software investment tool
that helps you most?
Excel… Balling on a budget.
What would improve the relationship
between you and managers?
Blind capitulation (by managers).
Why did you choose your current path?
Because of my otherworldly skills in prediction as evidenced by my fall 2007 pursuit of
a financial career.