In a career driven by a relentless focus on long-term gains, CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Nicole Musicco knows that the right strategy isn’t always easy.
But over the past few weeks, it’s a lesson that has hit close to home.
“I’ve spent my entire career making the necessary trade-offs between my personal and professional life,” Musicco said. “But lately, those trade-offs have come at too high of a cost.”
Now, after what she described as a careful, clear-eyed assessment, Musicco has made the difficult decision to step down from her position at CalPERS.
“Leading the CalPERS Investment Office is a demanding job, and rightly so,” she said. “I care too much about the work of the pension fund, and honoring those who depend on it, to not give the job the kind of time and attention that it deserves.”
Musicco, who joined CalPERS in the spring of 2022, will leave the pension fund on September 29. Deputy Chief Investment Officer Dan Bienvenue will serve in an interim capacity, as he did before Musicco’s arrival, while a global search begins this fall for a permanent chief investment officer.
Musicco said she grappled with the decision. As a seasoned investment executive with deep experience in public sector pensions, she’s passionate about helping mission-driven organizations succeed. She said there’s something special about working alongside investment professionals who are dedicated to fulfilling the retirement promises made to those who have spent their lives serving Californians.
And Musicco praised her team for its work on a series of new investment strategies, designed to produce a “best in class” operation focused on innovation and resiliency and positioned for long-term success.
“The team and I set very ambitious goals for ourselves in meeting the needs of our 2 million members and their families,” she said. “I’m proud of how much we’ve accomplished and am grateful for the strong support we’ve had from our board and our CEO.”
But now, she will turn her focus toward the needs of her family members, who await her return to her native home in Canada.
Musicco, who has two children, is part of what she describes as a large, multigenerational family that needs her more than ever — so much so, that she’s been shuttling between Sacramento and her native Toronto to attend to pressing matters.
“It was ambitious to move some 2,500 miles to California for the chance to help lead CalPERS, and I leave with no regrets. But right now, it’s important to listen to the voices of my family and respond to their needs.”
In many ways, Musicco’s work as CalPERS’ chief investment officer marks the culmination of a formidable career — a journey that has included leadership roles at the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan and at financial firms where she honed an expertise in private markets.
“Nicole brought to her work the vision and values that we needed, the kind of approach that added clarity and strength to our investing approach,” said CalPERS Chief Executive Officer Marcie Frost. “She has instinctively known how to pinpoint both our strengths and the places where we can improve. While it’s hard to see her go, we know it’s the right decision to put her family first and we applaud the strength it took to do so.”
Musicco credits the mentoring and encouragement of Frost as a guiding force behind those achievements. “She’s not just been a mentor,” Musicco said. “She’s been a real champion and an example for other women leaders to follow.”
Musicco’s experience in private market investing allowed her to closely focus on areas in which CalPERS can grow, including an exhaustive, top-to-bottom review of past practices and detailed plans for investing opportunities over the coming decade.
In January, she led the effort to commit $1 billion toward identifying and supporting the next generation of diverse investor entrepreneurs and followed up on that effort with some key hires to lead CalPERS’ sustainable and private market investing.
As she begins telling her CalPERS colleagues of her decision to leave, Musicco said it’s important that they know how much she believes in them and their ability to meet the challenges that lie on the horizon.
“CalPERS is at an important turning point in its nine decades of providing retirement security,” she said. “I’m so grateful to have played a part in helping set a course for what lies ahead. The work may be hard, but the goals are within reach. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”