Yu (Ben) Meng freely admits that when he started investing, he was more lucky than smart. The new chief investment officer at California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), Meng came to the U.S. from China in 1995 to study civil engineering at UC Davis—and opened an E-Trade account at the beginning of the tech bubble. “I didn’t know the difference between stocks and bonds,” he says. Lucky for him, stocks went up and he sold right before the bubble popped.
That early success convinced him to launch a career in finance via the Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering Program. He appreciated the mathematical approach and practical experience of faculty, which fit his engineer’s mindset. “The program gave us a lot of tools and theories and models to understand the market,” he says, but admits, “It’s more art than science.”
Meng cut his teeth on Wall Street as a bond trader with Morgan Stanley, then as a hedge fund manager at Barclays Global Investors in San Francisco before joining CalPERS in 2008, overhauling the pension fund to better manage risk in the wake of the financial crash.
He came back to Haas to teach risk management, winning a Cheit teaching award in 2014. After a three-year stint in China managing the country’s $3 trillion in foreign reserves, he returned to CalPERS to manage its $360 billion in retirement assets. Meng will deal with increasing market volatility, rising interest rates, and quantitative tightening in order to make the fund’s target 7 percent rate of return.
“It’s really that uncertainty that gets me excited,” Meng says. “I like the challenge.” To meet it, he calls upon Confidence Without Attitude. “You have to be humble and honest about what you know and what you don’t know and constantly challenge yourself to improve.”