Exclusive: CalSTRS Names Private Equity Investment Chief

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has named Margot Wirth as its new head of alternative investments, peHUB has learned. The position had been empty since early last year, when longtime alternatives chief Réal Desrochers resigned. Wirth and Seth Hall — both private equity portfolio managers — had been serving as interim co-heads.

Wirth originally joined CalSTRS in 2001, before which she was a valuation consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York and San Francisco. She also served as a vice president at an environmentally-conscious residential real estate developer in the Washington, D.C. area.

CalSTRS currently has nearly $17 billion in private equity assets under management. It has very little hedge fund exposure, so the “alternatives” job mostly involves private equity. You can view its PE portfolio through the end of Q1 2009 by going here.

As for ex-head Desrochers, he’s said to be back in Sacramento after a short stint with Advanced Equities in Italy. No word yet on his future plans.

peHUB has left a message for a CalSTRS spokesman, and will update this post if we hear back.

UPDATE: CalSTRS confirmed the news via a press release on Tuesday afternoon. Here it is:

California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) officials today announced Margot Wirth as director of the $16.8 billion private equity portfolio.

Wirth assumes her duties today and will direct a staff of 20 who manage the private equity portfolio, which accounts for 12.7 percent of the $132.6 billion CalSTRS investment portfolio as of February 28, 2010.

The private equity staff manages a portfolio consisting of private equity limited partnerships managed by external general partners and direct side-by-side co-investments. Private equity staff also manages the Credit Enhancement Program (CEP), which underwrites municipal transactions on an opportunistic basis and is managed internally.

“Margot emerged as the best choice to bring the private equity portfolio through the treacherous waters of the financial crisis, following a year-long director search,” said CalSTRS Chief Investment Officer Christopher J. Ailman. “Her years of experience, knowledge of CalSTRS operations and great relationships with both investment staff and our private equity partners will position the portfolio for further growth as the economy picks up steam.”

Wirth joined CalSTRS in 2001 as an investment officer, coming from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP where she was a manager and senior analyst in the corporate valuation consulting group. At CalSTRS, Wirth rose to become a portfolio manager and was named an interim co-director of private equity in February 2009.

Private equity has grown in recent years, diversifying the CalSTRS investment portfolio and offering a net rate of return of 12.3 percent since its inception in 1988 through March 31, 2009.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System is the second largest public pension fund in the United States. It administers retirement, disability and survivor benefits for California’s 833,000 public school educators and their families from the state’s 1,400 school districts, county offices of education and community college districts.