CPPIB chooses Bank of Montreal board director as chairman

Former Sun Life Financial Canada president Robert Astley will succeed longtime director Gail Cook-Bennett as head of the C$128bn Canadian pension's in-house investment arm.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has selected Bank of Montreal board director Robert Astley to replace longtime CPPIB chairman Gail Cook-Bennett.

Astley, former president of financial services and insurance company Sun Life Financial Canada and current chair of CPPIB’s audit committee, was selected by the Canadian Minister of Finance to lead the publicly-owned asset management company, which invests on behalf of the C$128 billion ($120 billion; €85 billion) Canada Pension Plan.

Astley joined CPPIB in 2006.

Cook-Bennett served as CPPIB’s founding chair since 1998, guiding the investment arm from its early days as a passive investor to a powerful investment house. Over the last five years, CPPIB has more than doubled its capital base.

CPPIB maintains one of the most active private equity and real estate programs of any investment firm affiliated with a public pension, committing more than C$7 billion to private equity and C$7.2 billion to real estate. As of the end of June, the firm had 5.6 percent of its portfolio committed to real estate. As of last May, CPPIB had 10.9 percent of its capital committed to private equity.  

The firm has also build a reputation as a direct investor in private transactions, with its principal investment firm completing C$3.5 billion in transactions through July. In March it narrowly failed to acquire a minority stake in Auckland International Airport, in a deal worth an estimated C$1.4 billion ($1.4 billion; €907 million). The deal was ultimately blocked by New Zealand authorities.

Cook-Bennett’s term as CPPIB chair expires October 26, at which point Astley will step in to start a three-year renewable appointment. After stepping down from CPPIB, Cook-Bennett will chair the board of financial services company Manulife Financial, according to a CPPIB spokesman.