This year, SWIB is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Since its creation on June 28, 1951, SWIB has been a forward-thinking investment organization. Support from government leaders and system participants has allowed SWIB to meet the challenges posed by a vastly changing investment industry.
From the beginning, it took a great deal of effort and cooperation to make SWIB happen and allow for an uncommon approach to managing state money, including the pension funds. Spearheaded by an unconventional alliance that included public policymakers who could see the state’s uninvested cash balances sitting idle, and union officials who were concerned about the diminishing value of contributions made to public worker pensions, SWIB was the work of visionaries who wanted to help ensure a strong financial future for trust fund beneficiaries. Still, they probably never imaged SWIB as we know it today. In fact, at that time, it is safe to say not many people envisioned an agency with over $144 billion in assets, and a diverse and complex portfolio of investments.
SWIB is probably best known for its management of the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) trust funds. Today, the WRS is among the best-funded and best-managed public pension systems in the world thanks in large part to the work of SWIB. As a world-class investment organization, SWIB works to bring a disciplined, prudent, and innovative approach to the investments made for the WRS. But success does not come by chance. It takes a strong organizational strategy, leadership, and award-winning staff to ensure SWIB remains an agile and integrated organization that adds value to the funds it manages.
SWIB has a long history of being an industry leader among institutional investors innovating to meet challenging financial markets. Over the past 70 years, SWIB's investment strategy has become more complex. Starting with the simple investments in bonds, mortgages and some stocks in the early years, SWIB has been a leader in developing strategies designed to ensure a strong financial future for retirement system beneficiaries. In addition to being a leader in investing in equities, SWIB became one of the first pension funds to include a private placements investment program in 1965. In 1989, international markets were added, and the world was opened to the Investment Board. In 1995, SWIB again moved to the forefront by moving into developing countries as former communist states in eastern Europe were opening their borders and their economies. In 1999, it was a new venture capital program focused on Wisconsin and the Midwest. More recently, SWIB established global portfolios, added leverage, hedge funds, and more.
Perhaps the most challenging time for SWIB's investment strategy came after the 2008 market decline when a focus on downside protection came to the forefront. As the investment strategy has become more complex over time, SWIB has had to adapt to ensure continued success. In 2013, SWIB turned its attention to building out technology and expert staff to provide the foundation for the future. Over time, SWIB has evolved to ensure it can fully support its sophisticated investment strategy.
Many may not have been able to predict the tremendous growth of Wisconsin’s public pension system or of SWIB as an investment leader. And, while no one can predict what will change in the next 70 years, one thing is certain – SWIB will remain committed to the beneficiaries of the funds entrusted to it.
Click here to read more about SWIB's 70th anniversary.
ACHIEVEMENTS & RECOGNITION
Over the past 70 years, SWIB has earned awards and recognition from industry publications and staff. Most recently, in 2021, the financial industry again took notice of the hard work, success, and innovation of SWIB staff. SWB was recognized with two industry honors - Team of the Year and Partnership of the Year - at the 4th Annual Institutional Investor Allocators' Choice Awards.
For the second time in five years, SWIB was honored as Team of the Year. The award recognized SWIB staff for their dedication, diligence, and fortitude during 2020. SWIB accepted the Partnership of the Year award on behalf of the Global Peer Financing Association (GPFA). The GPFA is a nonprofit partnership of 20 global investors with nearly $9 trillion in assets launched by SWIB and three other public pension funds that seeks to increase and support peer-to-peer securities trading activity.
Click here to read more about SWIB's achievements and recognition.
MILESTONES IN SWIB HISTORY
KEY FIGURES IN SWIB HISTORY
Gov. Oscar Rennebohm
As the governor of Wisconsin from 1947-1951, Oscar Rennebohm was crucial to the creation of SWIB. Prior to SWIB’s creation, money collected by the state was placed in non-interest earning accounts. By the late 1940s, the state’s surplus had accumulated to over $30 million. Concerned that these funds weren’t earning interest for the state, Rennebohm appointed John C. Lobb to head the project that ultimately became SWIB. While Rennebohm opted against running for re-election in 1950, his initiative to invest Wisconsin’s surplus proved beneficial for Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s public employees both then and now.
State Treasurer John L. Sonderegger
Like Gov. Rennebohm, State Treasurer John L. Sonderegger was a key figure in the creation of SWIB in the late. Sonderegger, who served as state treasurer from 1947 to 1948, shared Rennebohm’s concerns about Wisconsin’s failure to invest the state’s money to earn long-term interest, and he was among the leaders during the research phase of SWIB’s creation. Despite only serving as state treasurer for a little over a year, Sonderegger’s legacy lives on today through SWIB.
Like Roy Kubista, John Lawton was a crucial figure in the passage of the bill that created SWIB. Lawton represented municipal and local employees in Wisconsin, so his main concern was ensuring public employees had sufficient pension funds when it came time for them to retire. Therefore, Lawton understood that funds needed to be invested in vehicles that would guard against inflation and produce an adequate return on investment. Lawton worked alongside John C. Lobb and Kubista to ensure the bill was passed in June 1951, protecting the future of the employees he represented.
After completing the research phase of the creation of SWIB, John C. Lobb contacted Roy Kubista, who represented the Wisconsin State Employees Association, to secure his support for the plan. Kubista was very concerned about the diminishing value of the contributions made by public employers and employees to the pension funds. In an article written by Kubista, he explained the need to invest public employees’ money to ensure they would have enough money to retire after accounting for inflation. Kubista was crucial to the passage of the bill, which was voted on and passed in June 1951 with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
John C. Lobb
Under the leadership of Gov. Oscar Rennebohm and State Treasurer John L. Sonderegger in the late 1940s, John C. Lobb was appointed to head a project to research how to invest the state's money to earn interest. Lobb ultimately recommended the creation of SWIB to manage the funds for state and local governments, plus the pension funds for public employees. Lobb's proposal addressed two major issues: Earning interest on the state's cash balances and maximizing investment returns for public employees and teachers. Following the inception of SWIB in 1951, Lobb was appointed as one of the three commissioners responsible for investing the funds.
PREMIER ASSET MANAGER
As of Aug. 1, 1951, total assets under SWIB's management were $347 million. Approximately half were pension funds belonging to state and local employees and teachers. State operating funds comprised the balance. Today, SWIB is responsible for managing the assets of the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), the State Investment Fund (SIF), and other state trust funds. As of Dec. 31, 2020, SWIB managed about $144 billion in assets.