Familiar face becomes APFC pope

Angela Rodell will be the next executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

Analogous to Alaska’s pope, the director holds no direct political power but wields enormous indirect influence through oversight of the state’s multibillion-dollar trust fund. As of Wednesday, the fund was worth $52 billion.

The corporation’s board of trustees selected Rodell, Alaska’s commissioner of revenue under former Gov. Sean Parnell, after months of analysis and a day of interviews on Wednesday. Assuming she and the APFC reach a contract deal, she would become the first permanent female director in the fund’s history. Current acting director Valerie Mertz was the first woman in the role.

Randall Hoffbeck succeeded Rodell as the state’s revenue commissioner and is a trustee of the APFC. Although he participated in Friday’s vote and was among the unanimous decision, he declined to explain his pick of Rodell, saying that because discussions took place in closed-door executive session he couldn’t discuss them.

“It was a difficult process, but I think we worked through the process to the end,” said Bill Moran, chairman of the board of trustees, after the selection.

The other candidates were Brian Rogers, former chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Alexander Slivka, director of institutional marketing for McKinley Capital Management in Anchorage; and Glenn Cipriano, CEO of Alaska USA Trust Co. in Anchorage.

Each answered questions from the board for about an hour on Wednesday.

“The job is a really fascinating one for me at this point in my career,” Rodell told the board when asked why she applied.

Rodell holds a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Kentucky.

Before becoming revenue commissioner she was a senior vice president at FirstSouthwest, an investment bank in New York City. Hired in September 2011 by the state, she was deputy revenue commissioner in charge of the treasury. She worked under commissioner Bryan Butcher until August 2013, when he resigned to become CEO of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and she assumed his role.

Reached by phone on Friday, Butcher said he thinks the APFC trustees made the right call. “I think she’ll do a tremendous job,” he said.

When he was a trustee, Butcher had a hand in hiring a chief investment officer for the APFC. There were candidates with the right background and Alaskans with the right attitude, but it was difficult to find a person who was both an Alaskan and had the experience.

“They did a great job of finding Angela,” he said, who fulfills both qualifications.

Rodell was a key cabinet member for then-Gov. Parnell and campaigned for him but said it shouldn’t be a problem to work with the administration of the man who defeated Parnell in 2014.

“Quite honestly, I don’t see any issue,” she said. “I don’t see any issues about working with Gov. (Bill) Walker and his administration.”

Rodell will be confronted with a series of serious issues. As the state faces a multibillion-dollar gap between revenue and expenses, the Alaska Legislature is considering proposals to use a portion of the Permanent Fund’s earnings to fill in a $3.5 billion budget gap. Rodell said it shouldn’t matter what the executive director thinks of those proposals.

“That’s not the role of the corporation — that’s the role of the elected officials,” she said. “I think it’s very important that we stay in our lane.”

In coming years, the state may also look to the Permanent Fund to solve the state’s pension debt obligations or assist in construction of the trans-Alaska liquefied natural gas project known as AKLNG.

Rodell called investing in the pipeline “venture capital at this point” and said a decision on investment would have to come from Alaskans. If the state needs $10 billion to pay for its share of AKLNG, that amount is nearly a fifth of the value of the Permanent Fund.

“If the people of Alaska wanted to use a portion of the fund, that’s the call of the state,” she said.

In regard to pension bonds or other financing options for state operations, Rodell said state-offered investments need to earn the same amount of money as out-of-state investments.

“The No. 1 responsibility for the executive director is to maximize return within the risk parameters set by the board,” she said. “Our job is to manage this fund for all generations of Alaskans.”

More immediately, the APFC is without a chief investment officer, the corporation’s de facto No. 2 and a person who normally coordinates the details of the corporation’s investment strategy. Jay Willoughby announced his resignation at the end of September, and Jim Parise, the fund’s director of fixed-income investments, is filling in until a replacement is named.

The APFC also faces a perennial problem as it tries to compete with multimillion-dollar private-sector bonuses to retain investment staff.

Rodell told the board she thinks the APFC needs to get creative.

“We may just have to be a stepping stone,” she said, “and people are going to leave here because we have restrictions — compensation probably being the biggest one. If we can attract bright, talented people … and then they want to leave and make millions of dollars, then we need to be OK with that.”

Rodell already lives in Juneau, and while she thinks the APFC might need to have multiple offices outside Juneau — possibly one in New York City — she is firm in staying here.

“I’ve made Juneau my home,” she said. “I’m staying in Juneau.”

The APFC will now enter into contract negotiations with Rodell, who is expected to begin work once terms of her hiring are finalized.

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