Class of 2017 Forty Under Forty

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Elizabeth Burton Managing Director Quantitative Strategies Group, Maryland State Retirement and Pension System
(Baltimore, MD) 34
Elizabeth Burton
(Art by Marcellus Hall)

Ms. Burton is a unique force in the public pension fund community. She clearly possesses the investment acumen required to fully evaluate the complexities and risks associated with large-scale multi-asset class portfolio construction. However, more importantly, she thinks critically, independently, and outside the box.

How have you been a change agent at your organization? What have you done that you’re particularly proud of?

I do some of my best work in a team atmosphere, so when I joined Maryland as a one-person team, I realized I had to find a way to work in a team without formally having one. I’ve done a good job of working across teams and with teams—for example, instead of just having Absolute Return (my group) do due diligence on a manager, I’ll bring in people from public equity or real estate or credit, depending on the investment, to get a more holistic review. At this point, I feel a little bit like a small part of everyone’s team.

What is the asset class or investment that keeps you up at night, and why?

All of them, but mainly quant. Even though many say those fears are overblown, leverage plus selling pressure should scare anyone.

What methodologies have you adopted within your institution?

I’m trying to get every team actively involved in the risk process and taking ownership for the plan as a whole, instead of a siloed or top-down approach.

Where do you fall in the passive vs. active debate?

It depends on the investor and their opportunity cost.

What are changes you’d like to see the institutional investing community make in 10 years?

On the public side, I’d like to see the public side driving the technology. Currently, we sort of accept what we can get from vendors, which is in most industries typically a recipe for disaster. But I’d like that in two years, not 10.

Who is a manager you don’t currently work with whose brain you’d like to pick?

May be surprising given my comment in #2, but Cliff Asness. He’s witty, speaks in plain English, and is a Chicago grad—what a great combo! Plus, maybe he could set my mind to ease about quant.

Ideally, where would that meeting take place?

Pretty sure if I had a meeting with Cliff he would get to pick the place, but I guess my home in Maryland so I could have the home team advantage!

What is the software investment tool that helps you most?

Yikes. I spend most of time fixing the tool issues instead of using them. The tool that will help me the most is probably something we eventually develop internally.

What would improve the relationship between you and managers?

We have a good relationship, I think, but obviously, aligning incentives would go a long way. I’d also like to spend more time with them.

Why did you choose your current path?

I haven’t really followed a pre-determined path, but that’s led to some really interesting experiences. But whatever got me here, I’m so glad it did. This is the greatest job in the world! It’s like being back in grad school without the tuition burden. I learn so much each day…and I feel like I’m doing some good.