Due to sexist comments at a public forum, billionaire Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher Investments, has lost a major client. The $70 billion State of Michigan Retirement Fund pulled $600 million of its pension fund from Fisher’s firm.
Fisher made the inappropriate comments during a keynote discussion at the Tiburon CEO Summit at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco last week. During a moderated talk on Tuesday with Chip Roame, managing partner at Tiburon Strategic Advisors, Fisher, 68, claimed that gaining a client’s trust was like “trying to get into a girl’s pants,” according to interviews with summit attendees who broke non-disclosure agreements to report the remarks.
“I don’t want you to confuse me with Epstein,” Fisher reportedly added, referring to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges before committing suicide in prison.
Two days later, Fisher apologized. “Some of the words and phrases I used during a recent conference to make certain points were clearly wrong and I shouldn’t have made them,” Fisher said in a statement. “I realize this kind of language has no place in our company or industry. I sincerely apologize.”
Roame said in a statement on Thursday that he was “extremely disappointed” and barred Fisher from future events.
Michigan Chief Investment Officer Jon Braeutigam wrote in a letter on October 10 to the state’s investment board that its bureau of investments, part of the state Treasury Department, canceled the contract because of Fisher’s lewd comments. The state has been a Fisher client for 15 years.
“There is no excuse not to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” Braeutigam wrote. “We have high expectations of our managers (and staff) not just with regards to returns but also in how they exhibit integrity and respect to all individuals.”
Other funds took note. Shawna Lode, a spokeswoman for Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, told Bloomberg News in an email that “Fisher’s remarks are obviously concerning.” She continued: “Although our investment management contracts do not include a conduct policy, we hold our partners to the highest standards and reserve the right to amend or sever any contract at our discretion.” Fisher reportedly manages $386 million of the pension’s $34 billion fund.
Fisher established his Camas, Washington, firm in 1979. Fisher, who manages about $112 billion, boasts more than 175 large institutions as clients, including state pension plans and company 401(k)s, as well as 65,000 high-net-worth individuals. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and other public events. About 15 women were at the Tiburon event, which had about 220 attendees.
Women have been marginalized in the investment industry for years. According to the Harvard Business Review, gender equity in the business is lacking. Women control between 1% and 3.5% of assets under management and female portfolio managers manage only 2% of mutual funds. Only 4% of portfolio managers are women. Research has shown that gender diversity brings higher returns.