As a new year begins, I wish to express my warm appreciation to all members of PPI and to reflect on the events of the past twelve months. We will publish a more thorough 2016 review in the Annual Report in March, but today I am proud to share with you five of PPI's 2016 highlights and our plans to build on these successes in 2017.

We live in a world awash in change. Unprecedented developments in 2016 left in their wake disruption and a high degree of uncertainty. The low-return environment in which we began the year became significantly more complex as elections in the United States, Europe, and Asia toppled paradigms and cast doubt on long-held assumptions and beliefs.

Despite the shockwaves that rocked global markets, PPI’s charge has remained constant: to support our members’ consideration of investment opportunities as well as the corresponding political, security, financial, and economic risks. Our 2016 programs sought to provoke discussion as well as critical thinking on issues impacting the institutional agendas of long-term investors. 

As 2017 begins, markets are still assessing the tectonic shifts in the global landscape; many of these will feature prominently in the Winter Roundtable agenda next month in Seattle. Our chief goal remains to make PPI your premier resource for educational programming and peer-to-peer engagement. Our core value proposition remains the consistent organization of…

Vibrant, interactive, and well-attended PPI programs.

Our members expect serious, timely conversations with their peers at our flagship roundtables. Our 2016 programs delivered—blending political analysis with financial assessments, deep-dives into regional developments, and broad surveys on conditions in the global marketplace. We invited subject matter experts, well-known personalities, and PPI members to offer their thoughts and to lead interactive discussions on a diverse set of issues.

Though attendance at our programs remained at full capacity throughout 2016, we worked hard to keep the sessions conversational in nature to allow for the intimate exchange of ideas for which PPI is known. Our pledge to you is that we will continue to carefully manage the popularity of our programs, while preserving PPI’s unique and confidential learning environment.

In 2016 we upgraded the PPI App to facilitate connectivity within our network at our events and during the months between them. We will continue to nurture and to strengthen our network by…

Growing our membership, while safeguarding quality and balance.

PPI welcomed 21 new member organizations in 2016, and we currently count 102 high-caliber organizations among PPI's membership. The new Asset Owner and Allocator members in 2016 are: Alaska Permanent Fund, British Columbia Pension Corporation, Cbus, Development Bank of Japan, Fremont Group, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, Minnesota State Board of Investment, PKA, Premji Invest, The City of New York Office of the Comptroller, The Investment Fund for Foundations, The Norinchukin Bank, and Universities Superannuation Scheme. The new Asset Manager and Advisor members are: Ascendent Capital Partners, Apollo Global Management, Barings, Bridgewater Associates, Carlyle Investment Management, Fidelity Institutional Asset Management, and IFC Asset Management Company.

We continue PPI’s “smart growth” approach to membership recruitment and retention, which emphasizes the ability of an organization or individual to contribute and to actively participate in our programs, to share their insights, and to offer diverse points of view on relevant investment topics and market trends. As we detailed in the inaugural issue of PPI Connected, the process of recruiting new members for PPI almost exclusively begins with a recommendation from a current member or director. 

In addition to abiding by compelling membership criteria, we also endeavor to strike a balance between asset owners and asset managers. We have achieved roughly equal growth between these two membership classes since 2015, expect to achieve overall parity between them by the end of 2018, and also reach our goal of no more than 120 PPI institutional members next year.

PPI roundtable attendees will hear new voices and more powerful insights from their peers—other long-term institutional investors. And, our growth provides us the resources necessary to support and to consolidate PPI as an institution by... 

Increasing in-house expertise and programming.

We continued to enhance the high-quality of PPI’s personnel in 2016 by adding senior program staff and by providing professional development opportunities for our talented employees. These contributions were felt immediately, and we will continue to strengthen our internal capabilities during the coming year. 

Based on feedback from PPI members, we are also creating new programs and initiatives. This includes the recently launched Infrastructure Working Group (IWG), which held its initial meeting in October on the margins of the Asia Roundtable in Hong Kong. The IWG is comprised of representatives of like-minded asset owner institutions, managers, specialist developers, regulators, and international financial institutions. The group will meet periodically to hold in-depth discussions on global infrastructure needs. 

Having such a dedicated staff—in addition to the support of our members—allows PPI to take risks by…

Experimenting with new formats and venues.

Holding the 2016 Executive Seminar and Asia Roundtable in Hong Kong and Shenzhen presented some logistical challenges, but it was worth the effort. After two days of fascinating discussions in Hong Kong, we took a “field trip” to Shenzhen for a first-hand look at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect and its rapidly developing tech scene.  

We also made the decision to hold one of our major events last year on the East Coast. Convening the Summer Roundtable in Cambridge, MA allowed for greater participation by members based on the East Coast and Europe. We will build on this new tradition by organizing the 2017 Summer Roundtable in Toronto, Canada. Venues for future programs will include Washington, DC as well as Chicago.

Looking ahead, the 2017 Executive Seminar and Asia Roundtable in India in November are major programs to attend and to register for early. With South Asia presenting one of the brightest prospects for growth in the global economy, we look forward to presenting PPI members an in-depth exposure to this fascinating market. This will be the first time PPI will hold both programs in India, with the Executive Seminar in New Delhi and Asia Roundtable in Mumbai, the theme of which will be “The Two Indias: Balancing Innovation and Tradition.”

If there is a particular topic that you would like to see addressed at the Asia Roundtable, we would welcome your thoughts and ideas. Our objective remains to convene the best minds and to convene frank and substantive dialogue on the issues that matter to you. Our team will reach out to you, and we invite you to contact us whenever you might be thinking "that's something for PPI." Finally, we aim to make it easy for you to connect with us by…

Improving membership outreach and communications.

Building on the revamped branding materials of PPI, in 2016 we continued to improve our membership communications platform. We also launched a regular newsletter, PPI Connected, to give members a snapshot of some of our internal deliberations and decision-making processes.

Our improvements included a new public website content management system, registration and member management systems, the PPI App, and a secure online community site. When choosing these upgrades, we balanced the flexibility to adjust the platforms to the needs of a growing PPI community with the ease of managing and accessing the systems from around the world.

You can look forward to the imminent launch of the PPI Community Site. When the site goes live next month, you will be able to access PPI Connected and other useful resources, as well as discover new ways to interact with other PPI members.

These are just some of the highlights from 2016 that give us much to look forward to in 2017. All of this would not have been possible without our dedicated colleagues at the PPI headquarters in San Francisco and our stellar Board of Directors.

Finally, thank YOU for your continued support of PPI and for all that you have done and continue to do to make this a membership experience second to none.

With best wishes for good health, peace and success in 2017, 

Sincerely yours,

Lionel C. Johnson

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PPI’s 2017 programs will build on many of the discussions that took place in 2016. A recurring observation heard at recent PPI roundtables has been that it is no longer business as usual in today’s global environment. Technological advancements (including disruptive technologies), demographic changes, new and unorthodox central bank policies, a new status quo of persistently low returns, and geopolitical shifts have highlighted the need for new models and tools to manage the economy, politics, society, and businesses.

PPI’s 2017 programs aim to explore this overarching theme, and the implications for institutional investors, by addressing the following questions:

  • How are traditional industries and institutions adapting to these (often existential) changes?
  • What should institutional investors be aware of when assessing the impact of these changes on their current and potential portfolio targets?
  • How can institutional investors achieve returns or value beyond traditional sources (and manage higher risk)?
  • How is India embodying these changes in its evolution as a major economy, and what is the future role of institutional investors?

We encourage all PPI members to play an active role in letting us know of issues and ideas that might be worth addressing at our programs. We rely on your input to help us develop our programs. Here are some ways that you can ensure that PPI programs stay relevant, timely, and engaging:

  1. Contact our senior program director: Piin will welcome your call (+1 415.576.1187) or email (pkok@ppi.institute). The program team also reaches out to our members for feedback; we hope that you will accept their calls.
  2. Complete the roundtable session surveys: After panel discussions, keynote remarks or breakout sessions, go to each of the sessions in the PPI App and tap Take Survey. In 2017, the roundtable co-chairs will remind you from the stage. You will see reminders on the slides, in the app, and signs on the tables. 
  3. Complete the post-roundtable survey: These surveys give you the opportunity to provide feedback on your overall experience. We will remind you with app notifications when the roundtables adjourn and an email on the following Monday.

Now for the 2017 themes...

February 22-24, 2017

Business Not as Usual: Adapting to a Changing Global Landscape
For many, 2016 represented a year of disruption, dislocation, and dismay, leaving many investors feeling less certain than when the year began. Technological advancements continued to force us to rethink the future of traditional business sectors and employment practices. The disruptions from the global financial crisis, including the felling of banks and destruction of wealth, continued to be felt in economies throughout the world. While stocks have surpassed pre-crisis levels, growing wage disparities, technological advances, and a fear of being left behind in the international marketplace have manifested themselves in significant anti-globalization movements. Investors, along with global leaders, must appreciate the ramifications of the systemic challenge facing global institutions. What are these new forces which have fundamentally altered the world as we know it, and what are the implications for investors? How are institutional investors responding to major technological disruptions? In spite of these risks, what opportunities exist in the coming years to generate wealth and more robust investment returns?

July 26-28, 2017

Maximizing Value in a Low-Growth Environment
Many investors have arrived at the realization that current economic conditions could very well lead to a prolonged period of low economic growth and low returns. In 2016, institutional investors communicated this reality to their stakeholders by lowering expected returns, reducing fees when possible, and moving out on the risk curve to attain higher returns. In 2017, investors will continue exploring methods for achieving returns, which may include further investments into alternatives and emerging markets. How are Institutional investors adjusting their strategies to accommodate the low-return environment?

November 5-7, 2017

India as a Regional Power and Destination for Foreign Investment
In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will enter his third year in office. His plans for economic growth have been ambitious, as they seek to remove hurdles to economic growth; encourage foreign investment; provide government and governance processes; encourage transparency; and invest in much-needed infrastructure. At the same time, as India continues to reform and accelerate its economic growth, its regional and global role will change. How has Prime Minister Modi’s dream been realized?

November 8-10, 2017

The Two Indias: Balancing Innovation and Tradition
India’s metamorphosis, beginning in the 1990s, has been nothing short of impressive. Its GDP growth over the past decade has been second only to China’s; it now has the third-largest number of billionaires (111) in the world, after the United States and China; and its companies have become global players. Despite these and many other successes, traditional social structures and hierarchies are prevalent, allowing for corruption and graft at a large scale. While the years ahead look bright for a country full of young, educated people, how will India continue to provide incentives for further economic growth while bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, enhancing transparent and accountable governance, and strengthening the rule of law?



Winter Roundtable
March 14-16, 2018
Washington, D.C.

Summer Roundtable
July 25-27, 2018

Executive Seminar
October 14-16, 2018

Asia Roundtable
October 17-19, 2018



Since our earliest roundtables, PPI has been a leader in promoting programs to members and others in a marketing-free environment. Today, we incorporate this as a key feature in the description of PPI Programs on our website and brochure: "The Pacific Pension & Investment Institute (PPI) has held forums for over two decades that inform the investment decisions of the world’s major institutional investors as they relate to Asia, the Pacific Rim, and the world. These forums, exclusively for members, are conducted in a collegial, trusted and marketing-free environment, which allows in-depth and off-the-record dialogue. This tradition of thought leadership and candid conversation are coveted aspects of the PPI experience."

Through a survey of PPI members in early 2015, our branding consultants found that:

  • The No Marketing Policy and Chatham House Rule for programs are highly valued by all members and are cited as top differentiators from other competing organizations or events.
  • Marketing outside of PPI programs should be more clearly defined for all members.
  • Newer asset manager and advisor members would benefit from a more clarified No Marketing Policy and/or a more solid understanding of the PPI culture.

In recent years, PPI management has taken steps to preserve PPI’s traditions and to enforce the current No Marketing Policy:

PPI works hard to create an environment that is conducive to learning. For many members, our learning environment is a key reason for choosing to attend a PPI program over another event. It is critically important for PPI to maintain the practices that encourage openness and a deeper sharing of information and experiences: Participation in our programs is by invitation only. We cap the number of attendees. We require all participants to observe the Chatham House Rule and our strict No Marketing Policy.

There are many ways one might market financial products and services, from subtle to overt. Any list of prohibited marketing behaviors would be incomplete. Simply put, if a participant reports that his/her experience of the program was diminished by the marketing behavior of another participant, PPI will act swiftly to ban the offending individual from the remainder of the program, and the individual will not be invited to future PPI programs.

In order to register for a PPI program, each registrant is required to check a box to affirm that they are aware of our zero-tolerance stance with regard to marketing behavior. In addition, the co-chairs of the program remind the audience of the No Marketing Policy at the start of the program, and the policy also appears in the program materials.

If you are an attendee of a PPI program and another participant’s marketing behavior is distracting you from a full experience of the program, we invite you to remind the offending participant of the No Marketing Policy. If the problem persists, please notify anyone on the PPI management team, who will then inform PPI’s president for swift action.

We have learned from some members that the policy's lack of specificity is troublesome. "Any list of prohibited marketing behaviors would be incomplete" does not define undesirable marketing activity. This article attempts to shed some light on the policy, with the purpose being not to end the conversation with a definitive list of undesirable marketing behaviors but to open a member-wide conversation on creating an environment that members look forward to and are proud to co-create.

While the number of complaints we receive is very low—perhaps one or two per year—the most frequent complaints we receive involve individuals who seemingly missed the message about no marketing. They missed it in the registration process. The missed it in the pre-program emails. They missed it in the PPI App. They missed it in the announcement from the co-chairs. So other attendees complained:

  • "He was obviously just going around collecting business cards."
  • "He rudely cut right into my conversation with another participant to introduce himself and give me his card."
  • "She was blatantly trying to talk to me about their products, as if she were not even aware of the No Marketing Policy."

Marketing is defined as the promoting and selling of products or services, including market research and advertising. For PPI members, like every other business professional, talking about business interests and goals, or the industry in general, is everyday conversation. The line between this everyday conversation and marketing can be blurry.

PPI is different from other industry conferences. At most other conferences, there is often a networking frenzy in the hallways during the breaks. PPI programs are about the content and the connection. We are all-in on networking in ways that are consistent with PPI's culture. PPI members make deals with one another all the time...outside of the program. Our best recommendation for avoiding breaches of the No Marketing Policy is to initiate your conversations with thoughts or questions related to the program topics and speakers. Lead with your curiosity about the other participants' perspectives, and genuinely get to know the other attendees as your peers and fellow learners. Forming good relationships during the program increases the likelihood of reconnecting outside of PPI's programs.

Our No Marketing Policy applies to everyone in attendance. Even longtime members cross the line and slip into marketing mode. Best practice is to be aware of your marketing agenda and hold it until after the program. 

Please find the interactive web widget to the right. We have created some scenarios and ask, Could this be perceived as a breach of the No Marketing Policy? Again, these examples will not define a complete set of undesirable marketing behaviors, but we hope they will invite deeper thinking about the No Marketing Policy and inspire conversations about it among PPI members, board, and management team.




We are very grateful for the input from those who took the time to complete the 2016 PPI Member Survey in September and October. Of the 231 member representatives at that time, 34 individuals completed the survey—about 15%—which is the typical rate of response for most surveys. For PPI, we think the percentage should be much higher. When it comes time for the 2017 PPI Member Survey, we will encourage the primary representative of each PPI member organization to be responsible for ensuring that at least one representative responds.

The board and management team reviewed the survey responses during their meetings in October. Overall, the responses suggest that PPI continues to be on the right track. The specific comments that some respondents shared were very helpful, especially for those working on program development. One individual responded "Disagree" to the statement "The procedures for being nominated to serve on PPI's board and committees are fair." For that individual and undoubtedly others who are not yet aware of how the PPI Board of Directors and its standing committees are staffed, please see the inaugural issue of PPI Connected.

An intriguing question about the board emerged from the discussions of the survey responses: Why are the board members not elected or affirmed by the membership every year? —the implication being that annual elections or affirmation of the current directors by the membership would be good governance practice.

PPI is "A Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation," and as such it has a board, bylaws, and other governing documents, just like any corporation, whether they be non-profit or for-profit. The PPI Board of Directors strives to practice good governance by faithfully following the organizational structure and provisions prescribed by its governing Bylaws. PPI's Bylaws do not require election of the directors to be done annually by the full membership of the organization:

Article IV. Section 4.  Selection.  The directors shall be elected at the annual winter meeting of the board or in any other manner authorized by these bylaws or the Law. Nominees for election shall be presented to the board by the Nominating and Governance Committee, following the consultative process described in the Committee’s charter. In any election of directors the candidates receiving the highest number of votes are elected. Elections for directors need not be by ballot unless a director demands election by ballot at the meeting and before the voting begins. Each director shall cast one vote for each office of director to be filled without the right to cumulate votes.

In short, the Bylaws establish that the Nominating and Governance Committee receives candidate recommendations, vets those candidates, and presents board nominees to the full board for discussion and a vote.

Precisely why PPI's structure was set up this way is perhaps the subject of a future article. The documents from PPI's formative days do not provide the details of the deliberations, but many of the individuals who were part of that process continue to be active PPI members today—Lifetime Members, in fact. Suffice it to say, the practice of having the board elect its members is not uncommon among nonprofit organizations. One board member noted that this practice is a better match for PPI's culture than one where the full membership votes on the directors: "The directors on the PPI board are volunteers and are not compensated for their service. If PPI directors needed to politic every year for their seat on the board, that would be such a distraction from the collegial atmosphere that is characteristic of PPI. PPI places such a high value on the relationships among its members; our founders were right to set up the organization in the way it did."