2019 Industry Innovation Awards

Collaboration Award

Textron

Charles Van Vleet, Chief Investment Officer and Assistant Treasurer
Charles Van Vleet
Art by Nigel Buchanan

Textron’s Charles Van Vleet is the guy other chief investment officers test their ideas on. It’s reminiscent of the old TV ad for Quaker Oats, where a cute youngster named Mikey, who was a picky eater, took a shine to a new cereal on the breakfast table. The reaction of his brothers—”Mikey likes it”—came to mean something new is a good idea.

The CIO and assistant treasurer of defense contractor Textron, Van Vleet belongs to a host of organizations, allowing him to trade ideas with others and to offer his coveted advice. He is on the board or a member of several peer groups including CIEBA, ILPA, MFA, SVIA, DCALTA, and AOI. At CIEBA, the Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets, for instance, he can interact with representatives of more than 100 of the biggest US pension funds.

“Through these organizations,” he says, “I often find other CIOs who are willing to collaborate on seed-capital investing in new strategies or approaches.”

That spirit of outreach has led him to require members of his team to give time to worthy endeavors like nonprofits. Van Vleet serves on the investment advisory board for the endowment of Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest not-for-profit health care system. Some CIOs “don’t want their people diverting time” from their jobs, he says. But helping deserving undertakings, like the hospital, “make you all the richer for it.”

Van Vleet worked at a host of other companies before coming to Textron seven years ago. He previously served as director of pension investments at United Technologies for eight years. Prior to his pension investment role, he spent 25 years in the asset management divisions of Credit Suisse, Putnam Investments, Alliance Capital, Brown Brothers Harriman, and Nomura Securities. 

Along the way, he learned a lot about collaboration, from the likes of Robin Diamonte, CIO, at United Technologies. “Robin taught me about the importance of clear and concise communications,” he says, “and the kind of team leadership that can only be earned by action, not title.”

With an investment team of four, Van Vleet has trustee oversight of $12 billion in defined benefit and defined contribution assets for Textron’s US, Canada, and UK Plans. They provide retirement security for over 75,000 current and past employees. When he came in, he found an investment approach that compartmentalized the portfolio into separate asset-class boxes like US equities, bonds, private equity, and hedge funds. “Never look at your portfolio as a series of silos,” he says. “Look at the portfolio in entirety.”

When Van Vleet talks to other CIOs, his themes are empowering and insightful, such as: “Think outside the box. Fear group-think. Promote diversity of opinion.”

Larry Light

Collaboration Award Finalists

  1. University of Iowa Center for Advancement Foundation
    Jim Bethea
  2. FM Global
    Sanjay Chawla
  3. The Kresge Foundation
    Rob Manilla
  4. Margaret Cargill Foundation
    Shawn Wischmeier
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