At an Oregon Investment Council meeting earlier this month, OIC Vice Chair John Russell objected to the lack of diversity at one the OIC's largest and longest standing pension managers, TPG Capital.
The investment firm's representatives were in Oregon seeking investments in a couple of new funds from the OIC, which manages $101 billion in public pension and other state funds.
Here's what happened in the course of a routine investment pitch, Bloomberg reports:
"About 30 minutes into the almost three-hour meeting, John Russell, the vice chairman of the council, asked the group to look at what amounted to Exhibit A: photos of the firm's leaders in its flagship buyout unit, TPG Capital.
"'When I first looked at that, it was stunning to me,'" Russell said. A March TPG marketing document shows only 2 women among the 37 executives of TPG Capital. One of them is a partner.
"'It isn't that people of different ages, genders and ethnicity are better managers,' Russell said to [TPG's Jim] Coulter. 'It is just that they have a view of the world that is broader. And companies can get into trouble without that diversity.'"
Russell, a Portland real estate investor and longtime fixture on high-level state and local commissions, was not addressing some mid-level functionary: Coulter is CEO and co-founder of TPG, one of the most successful leveraged buy-out firms in the country, with $84 billion under management. Forbes magazine pegs Coulter's personal net worth at $2.2 billion. He nonetheless took Russell's criticism in stride and said his firm needed to do better.
"Our racial diversity is high relative to the industry," he told Russell, Bloomberg reports. "Our gender diversity with about 12 to 15 percent partners women is on average, but not nearly high enough in my view and it is something that we in the industry are working on."
Russell's exchange with Coulter was newsworthy but in a way, unsurprising. Under the leadership of OIC chairwoman Rukaiyah Adams, the chief investment officer of the Meyer Memorial Trust and the first black woman to head the investment council, there's less deference to the white-male dominated investment profession.
TPG, formerly known as the Texas Pacific Group, has invested Oregon pension funds since its founding in 1993.
Back in 2004, the firm tried to purchase Portland General Electric, which was then owned by Enron. The firm hired former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, then working as a private consultant to lead the acquisition. TPG hoped Goldschmidt's stature and political clout would help win regulatory approval and public acceptance of one of the state's best-known corporations ending up in the hands of a buyout firm. Goldshmidt's wife, Diana Snowden Goldschmidt, was then a member of the OIC.
After WW published confidential TPG documents that showed the firm's plans to rev up PGE's profits at the expense of customers, however, the Oregon Public Utility Commission ultimately rejected the deal. In the meantime, WW broke the news of Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a teenage girl 30 years earlier, when he was Portland mayor.
On June 6, after the exchange between Russell and Coulter, the five member OIC voted on a proposal to invest $500 million in new TPG funds.
The vote went four to one in TPG's favor—Russell was the lone "no" vote.