By CRAIG KARMIN
Jobs are increasingly hard to come by on Wall Street. But locales like Baton Rouge and Cheyenne are posting "Help Wanted" signs for investment professionals.Wyoming state capitol
The prospective employers? Public pension funds, many of which continue to hire to fill current positions or in some cases new ones, according to recruiters, fund executives and Web-site job listings. Thanks to Wall Street's woes, plenty of people are applying.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System, known as Calpers, is seeking a portfolio manager for risk management and another for infrastructure investing. The Austin-based Teacher Retirement System of Texas wants to add a senior telecom analyst, while the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System in Columbus is looking for a deputy chief investment officer.
"We have a different business model than the private sector," says Gary Findlay, executive director of the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System. "Regardless of the economy, we have dollars to manage and you still need the talent to do it."
Unlike at most private financial firms, pension-fund hiring can be somewhat insulated from the economic cycle. Their payrolls are supported by a steady stream of tax dollars. They don't face redemption requests. And they aren't necessarily compelled to downsize when their liabilities grow.
Not long ago, a public pension job might hold little appeal for Wall Street rainmakers, who would dismiss the positions as too staid, too low-paying or too far from the bright lights of a big city. Yet today, as bankruptcies, consolidation and layoffs have left many people out of work, résumés from people who had been at investment firms are tumbling in.
In Baton Rouge, an opening for chief investment officer at the Teachers' Retirement System of Louisiana drew more than 50 applicants in the first three weeks, Ms. Hobson says, ahead of expectations.
The CIO position for the Wyoming Retirement System has attracted more than 100 candidates. That includes some former Wall Street hands willing to be based in the town of Cheyenne, population 55,000, for a salary of $130,000, a modest amount for a chief investment position, even by pension-firm standards.
Meanwhile, thanks to heightened scrutiny over everything from bonus checks to junkets since banks have started taking federal money, the glamour gap between the two job types may be shrinking.
"They're facing the same standard that we always face," says David Villa, the CIO of the Wisconsin Investment Board and a former financial analyst with a Chicago-based unit of UBS AG. "It's a fishbowl."
Public funds still offer only a fraction of the private world's historic compensation, where seven-figure salaries didn't stand out. But lots of those paychecks are shrinking. And highfliers who have made the switch say state governments offer more job security, a less-stressful work environment and the chance to be home in time for dinner with the kids.
"There is a real sense of stability," says Lawrence Kochard, chief investment officer at Georgetown University's endowment who previously worked at the Virginia Retirement System and Goldman Sachs. "Pension funds may be down, but they are still in business."
Interested comers might want to send their résumés soon. Pensions may start to limit their hiring to refilling essential positions if the recession grinds on. A few plans have postponed venturing into new areas, like infrastructure investing, commodities or private equity, and that can mean delaying hires. Some smaller-staffed city and county funds mightn't be doing much hiring at all, headhunters say.
Some pension-fund staff now are disclosing smaller compensation packages. Trustees for the $81 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas, for one, recently voted to defer $2.5 million in bonuses to staff after the fund had a 27% decline in 2008. Britt Harris, chief investment officer, said he would forgo nearly $168,000 awarded him in incentive pay.
And financiers beware: Not every pension-fund firm will be eager to embrace Wall Street veterans.
"If a person arrives with a real sense of arrogance or superiority, they will not be thought of highly at a pension fund," says Mr. Kochard, who worked on Goldman's capital-markets desk. "On the Street, those qualities wouldn't be a problem."
Ash Williams, executive director of the Florida organization that manages state pension funds, worked more than a decade in New York including at the hedge fund Fir Tree Partners; he returned to his job as head of the pension last year.
He is looking to hire a fixed-income portfolio manager, and knows that someone from a blue-chip financial firm could excel at the Florida job. His caution lies elsewhere: Does the candidate have family ties to the Tallahassee area? A spouse with a job at the local university? A keen interest perhaps in hunting or golf?
"We're sniffing around to see if we can keep this person for three to five years," Mr. Williams says, meaning even if the economy rebounds and Wall Street jobs beckon. "You don't want someone just looking for a port in the storm."
Write to Craig Karmin at email@example.com