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Ontario’s $100-billion pension plan for municipal workers has tapped former real estate head Blake Hutcheson as its new chief executive, taking over from a 20-year veteran who pushed the fund deeper into private assets.

The Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System said Blake Hutcheson will take the top job in June. Mr. Hutcheson will oversee a very different balance sheet than the pension plan had a decade ago. Under retiring CEO Michael Latimer, OMERS opened multiple international offices and shifted billions of dollars in assets away from bonds and publicly available stocks toward alternative assets, including real estate, infrastructure and private equity.

Mr. Latimer, 68, will retire at the end of May, slightly more than six years after becoming CEO and 20 years after arriving at the plan. Before becoming OMERS’s chief investment officer in 2010, Mr. Latimer oversaw its real estate arm, Oxford Properties. Mr. Hutcheson, 58, has been at OMERS a decade, serving as CEO of Oxford Properties for more than eight years. In April, 2018, OMERS promoted him to president and chief pension officer.

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Blake HutchesonCourtesy of manufacturer

During Mr. Latimer’s tenure, the plan grew from $65-billion to $97-billion at the end of 2018, with assets crossing the $100-billion mark this year, OMERS said. The plan, which serves 1,000 employers in Ontario and has nearly 500,000 active and retired members, was a pioneer of the “Canadian model” of independent public-pension-plan management and governance.

OMERS says it posted an average annual return of 8 per cent over Mr. Latimer’s tenure and approached full funding, meaning it has enough assets to cover the future benefits it estimates it must pay out to its members. It reported a 2.3-per-cent return in 2018.

As part of its international expansion, OMERS opened offices in Singapore, Sydney, Paris, Berlin, Boston and San Francisco. It also shifted assets away from bonds and publicly available stocks toward alternative assets such as real estate, infrastructure and private equity.

Mr. Hutcheson led Oxford Properties for much of that time, also making Oxford more international and posting an average annual return of 12.5 per cent, the plan said.

In a statement, George Cooke, chair of the OMERS Administration Corp. board of directors, said the board “is very confident in Blake’s leadership given his track record in building strong relationships, successful global organizations, showing great investment judgment and understanding all aspects of OMERS and its vast stakeholder group.”

Mr. Cooke said Mr. Latimer executed its five-year “OMERS 2020” plan, which “provided clear direction for our members, sponsors, stakeholders and employees and saw significant growth in assets with steady improvements in the Plan’s liabilities and financial position.” OMERS has now developed new five-year and 10-year strategies in a process supervised by Mr. Hutcheson.

In a message to members, Mr. Hutcheson said he has “worked extremely closely with Michael for the last ten years” and “hold him in the highest regard.” He said that, early in the new year, he will set out on a cross-Ontario roadshow “to share some thoughts and gather input from members.”

The transition means OMERS is joining most of the major Canadian pension plans in switching leaders in recent months.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan will elevate Jo Taylor to become its top executive on Jan. 1 after current CEO Ron Mock retires.

In February, both Michael Sabia of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Jim Keohane of Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan will depart after 10 and eight years in their plans’ CEO jobs. Their successors have not been named.

And OPSEU Pension Trust hired Peter Lindley, formerly the president and head of investments for State Street’s Canadian operations, as CEO in August. He replaced Hugh O’Reilly, who left as president and CEO in March.

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