2016 Forty Under Forty

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Meghna DesaiPortfolio Manager, Alternatives 
New Jersey Division of Investment
(Trenton, NJ) 31
Meghna Desai
(Art by Lauren Tamaki)

“She’s smart, thoughtful, tough, and—most importantly—a very good person. I don’t know what we/I would do without her.”

Name the most noticeable generational divide in investment style between sub-40-year-old investors and baby boomers.

People over 40 have been through more cycles, and their style tends to be more measured. When my generation looks at an asset now, we always ask how it would have performed in 2008.

Your least favorite part of being an asset owner is...?

Sales people who are unnecessarily flattering. I think they tell every allocator they’re the best.

The manager you don’t currently work with whose brain you’d most like to pick for an hour is...?

Ray Dalio. I often read Bridgewater’sDaily Observations, and I feel like he does a very good job explaining how things work.

... and where would that meeting take place?

Not in Trenton.

Describe the weirdest interaction you’ve had with an asset manager.

I’ve had managers forget about me—literally. I’ve come to meetings, sat in a conference room for 20 or 30 minutes, and then figured I should go get someone.

What asset class or investment troubles you most right now—and why?

Core real estate, given current valuations.

Name your favorite food and drink.

Pani puri, a type of street food from Bombay. And margaritas—or maybe a chocolate stout.

What’s the wildest institutional portfolio you’ve seen?

Not wildest, but really interesting: A few institutions are directly buying private assets and building teams internally to manage them. As a public plan, the funds I really respect include the Wisconsin Retirement System, South Dakota’s, and MOSERS—the Missouri employees’ pension.

Name a cultural aspect of asset management that gets under your skin.

The insatiable need to fundraise ever-growing funds. It would be great to see a general partner give back money because there were no compelling opportunities.

Donald Trump is ________.

Litigious, so I’ll bite my tongue.

Name your four-member investment dream team for your own family office.

If I could fool them into taking the jobs, I’d hire people I’ve worked with at New Jersey: Tim Walsh, Chris McDonough, Jason MacDonald, Bryan Martin, and—as the CIO—Gaw Capital’s Roman Nemtsov. Can I have five?

What’s the biggest investment or career misstep you’ve made?

Not coming to New Jersey sooner. I’ve learned so much, worked with smart people, and come into contact with people who love their jobs and are very, very good at them.

What should be an investment trend, but isn’t (yet)?

Two things. One: Funds with minimal management fees, and larger performance incentives. Two: Inclusion of private assets in target-date retirement funds.