To see this article in digital magazine format, click here.
Hemal Naran, 37
Fund Manager (Alternative Assets), British Steel Pension Fund
"There's nothing I can't do," says Naran, who oversees the alternatives portfolio at the British Steel Pension Fund. At 37, the former actuary has been given free rein (within reason) to allocate to where he thinks will perform the best for the fund. "The mandate is very wide, I don't have big restrictions and there is no beauty parade if we need to allocate £200 million for example," he says. Frontier African markets and reinsurance are piquing his interest of late, one of which harks back to his childhood. Growing up in South Africa, the young Naran saw firsthand the growth story of these untapped economies. "I was active in my family's textile and property businesses from early school days. I was very fortunate, as I was exposed to many exciting regions of the world (BRICs, sub-Saharan Africa), probably before it became fashionable in the investment world," he says.
From here, he qualified as an actuary and moved on to looking at hedge funds and private equity. "I was working on a diversified growth model, and was tasked with creating a model similar to that of Yale. We were trying to create a solution to manage the best across difference categories, but it was a bit slow-moving for me." As a result, he moved to the British Steel fund in July 2008 and has been building up the alternatives portfolio ever since. "I like looking for returns in interesting places and by the time I retire, I'd like people to really understand alternative assets," he says, maybe a touch optimistically.
The Transplants: They didn't start in this industry, but here's hoping that they stay. While some pension and endowment investors began as fresh-faced college graduates, others took alternative routes—be they via philosophy degrees, hedge funds, or even (gasp!) journalism. There's an argument to be made, of course, that a richness of experience helps one see more holistically. In today's increasingly complex investment landscape, this rings true—and these five represent the outcome of this argument.