Al Y. Kim Director of Investments, Helmsley Charitable Trust Art by Victor Juhasz
Al Y. Kim
“Al is a key member of our investment team as one of the four directors who report to me. Al specifically is in charge of the implementation of our investment portfolio working with his peer and colleague Josh, who has the same responsibility, and our director of strategy and research, and director of risk and operations. Al is primarily responsible for overseeing the manager research and hiring and monitoring of the managers who collectively implement our strategic plan. Since we have a set limit of no more than 50 manager relationships for Helmsley’s $6 billion portfolio, it means that each manager really counts and must be thoroughly researched before the firm is hired.

Al’s detailed and methodical approach to research and monitoring is what he is known for, and he oversees two associates in that work. Al is not afraid to get his hands dirty with respect to analysis, research, or other investment tasks, as no job is too small for him to get involved in if it moves the ball further down the field. On the other hand, Al is very good at looking at the bigger picture and ensuring that each of our three broad categories have strategies that make sense and can achieve our risk and return goals. It is this combined ability to go deep and detailed and high and strategic that makes Al so powerful an investor. In our office, Al is perhaps best known for being one of two current staff members who have been crazy enough to come back to work for me a second time! Al worked for me at Wilshire and returned to work for me after he left BlackRock. I am certainly the more fortunate of the two of us that he did.”

— Roz Hewsenian, CIO, Helmsley Charitable Trust

Helmsley’s Director of Investments Al Kim is beginning to see his team’s portfolio changes have positive effects on performance. His ability to dive deep into details while maintaining a strategic viewpoint helps Kim effectively drive Helmsley’s research agenda and work with his colleagues to find the best managers that help implement the team’s views. Kim says, within his office, a culture of transparency and talent development is key to advancing productivity and individual satisfaction and often times leads to very differentiated ideas.

Kim started his career at Wilshire Associates in Los Angeles before shifting to the buy-side to become a director at BlackRock in New York. Kim joined Helmsley in 2015 when he was recruited by CIO Roz Hewsenian.

CIO: What are the accomplishments you are most happy to have achieved recently, and why?

Kim: Whether it’s restructuring our safe assets and semi-liquid segments or rounding out our private capital program, I’m just happy to be a part of a great team here at Helmsley where I can have an impact on the team, our internal processes, and the portfolio. We are team-based in our decision-making, and it is gratifying to see that the changes we have made to the portfolio over the last few years are starting to pay off. I’m hoping this momentum continues as we look for ways to adjust and better position our portfolio.

CIO: What would you be most excited to accomplish in the year ahead, and why?

Kim: Another year of strong performance. At the end of the day, strong returns help compound our asset base, and a bigger asset base from which to pay out grants allows Helmsley to have more influence in pursuing our mission and a greater impact across our programs.

CIO: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being an asset owner?

Kim: Because we have one portfolio to manage at Helmsley, it is rewarding to be able to set my own research agenda, explore strategies that I find compelling, and make investments in a timeline set by our team. This is a stark contrast to the for-profit organizations I was part of before, where the objective even in the context of managing portfolios was ultimately about servicing clients and doing so under the parameters, constraints and timelines dictated by those clients. This combination of focus and flexibility allows me to make better long-term decisions. 

CIO: What’s the most challenging?

Kim: There is a tremendous amount of talent in the asset management business, and filtering through all of these managers/strategies takes time, effort, and resources. Our team’s goal today is to identify strategies that make sense at this part of the cycle, find managers with differentiated and sustainable approaches to the markets, and invest in those managers at the right part of their lifecycle. The ongoing challenge is finding the few investments where all of these elements are aligned.

CIO: What are you most hopeful about in the future of the industry?

Kim: The Global Financial Crisis significantly altered the make-up of financial services industry and, in my opinion, has resulted in asset management in particular becoming a much more prominent part of the industry. Given the need and importance of long-term investing, whether it be for growing the asset base of private foundations or those saving for retirement, I’m hopeful this trend continues. 

CIO:  What are you most cautious about?

Kim: The compression of returns and alpha due to the massive amount of capital out there and the increased competition across (nearly) all asset classes/types of strategies.  

CIO:  As a leader, what are the most important aspects of the industry you hope to change over your career?

Kim: I strongly believe that a culture grounded in talent development and transparency leads to happier employees, better engagement, and more productive teams. I am fortunate at Helmsley to work with a CIO who is very transparent and believes in each team member, giving us the autonomy and flexibility to pursue our interests and work on our developmental needs so we can become better investors and more well-rounded in our thinking. As I progress in my career, I hope to share and instill this belief across the teams and organizations with which I am involved.

CIO: If you had one piece of advice for your peers, what would it be?

Kim: Don’t underestimate the importance of governance. Over the last few years, I have come to appreciate the significance of having a well-designed governance framework and the skill and tact required for CIOs to successfully manage their interaction and relationships with their Trustees, Investment Committee members, and other stakeholders. I think this aspect of the job is just as challenging as the investment side, and we need to get both parts right to have a successful career as an allocator.

CIO:  What are the biggest current trends you are seeing that have surprised you?​

Kim: The blurring of lines across the asset management industry coupled with its increasing pace of change is quite noticeable. For example, long-only equity managers are investing in private companies in a much more meaningful way, hedge funds are offering and managing more long-only mandates, and both hedge funds and private capital managers are launching dislocation funds oftentimes chasing the same publicly-traded investment opportunities as long-only managers. This is making it more important than ever to really understand what these managers are doing, what risk exposures they are providing, and how they fit into a broader portfolio context. These changing dynamics makes the job fun and allow allocators (at least those flexible enough to adapt) to be creative in designing differentiated frameworks for managing their portfolios.

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