GPIF’s LinkedIn message is difficult to ignore

It is a strange affair when the biggest pension fund in the world turns to social media to boost its chances of finding suitable leadership.

Last week, Yoshitaka Todoroki, managing director of the private market investment department and head of private equity and infrastructure – and acting head of real estate – at Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, posted on LinkedIn that finding a permanent successor for the real estate gig was a “top priority” in the investor’s recruitment activity.

Whoever comes in to replace previous incumbent Hideto Yamada, who left in April to join Singaporean manager CapitaLand Investment, has a huge job to do. GPIF, which manages $1.358 trillion in assets, had a comparatively small $6.2 billion of private real estate on its books, or about 0.4 percent of total assets, as of the end of March. That places the investor 86th on PERE’s latest Global Investor 100 ranking, which will be published at the start of next month. Even doubling that amount sees the investor barely climb past 50th position.

GPIF is going to need dedicated, experienced leadership in place if it is going to do more than place capital in the obvious places – under Todoroki’s interim control, it announced a $500 million, first direct commingled fund commitment to Blackstone Real Estate Partners X, according to its latest annual report. That low hanging ticket adds to indirect accounts established with managers CBRE Investment Management, LaSalle Investment Management and Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Bank.

Todoroki’s LinkedIn post underscores the high expectations for GPIF’s next real estate leader. He said the investor is looking for a senior investment professional with significant experience in both Japanese and overseas real estate markets, particularly North America and Europe; they should be a Japanese national or at least an overseas professional who is fluent in Japanese and, of course, they will need to be based in Tokyo. Finding someone who meets all these criteria cannot be easy, and the LinkedIn post is one demonstration of exactly how hard it is.

Not that GPIF is alone dealing with the challenge of securing senior leadership. Indeed, according to PERE research, in the past two years, 13 of the top 50 Global Investor 100 ranked institutions this year have contended with top leadership changes for their private real estate businesses. Further, many have had to take time to secure bosses too.

Most recently, sixth-placed US pension California State Teachers Retirement System announced last week Julie Donegan will oversee its real estate portfolio, taking over from long-serving predecessor Mike DiRe. Her appointment came eight months after DiRe was promoted to senior investment director of private markets in January. At the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, meanwhile, Drew Goldman was appointed as global head of real estate some two years after previous full-time incumbent Tom Arnold left.

Besides them, other institutions which have experienced top real estate job changes in the past two years include AXA Group, National Pension Service of Korea, Oregon State Treasury, Alberta Investment Management Corporation, Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System and Korea Investment Corporation. Sovereign wealth fund Kuwait Investment Authority is another institution with a new real estate leader. Last week, Nadia Al-Sharhan also took to LinkedIn to announce her promotion.

She exemplified another trend among all these changes – that of internal promotions. Al-Sharhan, Donegan, Rachel Oh at NPS and John O’Driscoll and Timotheé Rauly at AXA are examples of new real estate bosses that came from within their organizations’ ranks. GPIF’s Todoroki has since removed his LinkedIn post – screengrabs are still in online circulation – but that will do little to assuage the view the world’s largest pension fund does not have the same luxury.