UniSuper revamps investment team

By Elizabeth Fry

UniSuper investment chief John Pearce has revamped his investment team following the departure of its longtime head of Australian equities Simon Hudson.

Hudson, an industry stalwart, was hired 12 years ago from QIC when Pearce began to build the industry fund's in-house investment capability.

Now, more than 70 per cent of the $105 billion super fund's assets are managed internally.

Pearce said Hudson, who steps down from his role on Friday, has no plans to join a rival super fund and will maintain a formal association with UniSuper by sitting on the advisory board of its venture capital partnership, Uniseed.

The investment chief says the superannuation fund has enough bench strength to manage Hudson's succession from within.

"Hudson's departure provided a great opportunity for internal promotions," he says.

Hudson will be replaced by Penny Heard, who moves into the role from overseeing global equities and quant strategies.

Meanwhile, Thomas Tam - previously Heard's deputy - will lead UniSuper's global equity and quant investment strategy.

The privatisation of Sydney Airport - in which UniSuper has a 15 per cent stake -  and the super fund's merger with Catholic Super, has considerably boosted its exposure to unlisted assets.

This prompted Pearce to reshuffle other parts of his team.

He has split the leadership of the fund's property and unlisted investments.

Kent Robbins will continue to lead UniSuper's $9.5 billion property strategy.

Further, Sandra Lee will become head of private market and lead UniSuper's $10 billion infrastructure and private equity strategy.

Previously, she oversaw just the unlisted infrastructure assets.

Over time, Pearce can envisage UniSuper's allocation to unlisted assets growing to about 20 per cent from the current single digits.

"The fund is growing in size and complexity, and our allocation to unlisted assets will continue to grow," Pearce says.

"This has warranted splitting the roles and promoting Sandra as the job was getting too big for one person.

Commenting on the team overhaul, Pearce says he doesn't use the term succession planning.

"Over the last decade, we have repeatedly taken a punt on internal hires and grow the capability internally."

"We don't earmark a specific person for a particular role at any given time but grow our capability across the board."

Pearce says managing a large percentage of money in-house gives UniSuper a lot of scope to develop people.

"We have a lot of sideways movement."

The appointments bring the investment leadership team to seven.