Nominees named for Trustee of the Year, board-focused Mutual Fund & ETF Awards for 2023

Trustee of the Year winner to be named June 15; shortlist comes from SEI, J.P. Morgan, Harbor and Prudential Funds

The Mutual Fund & ETF Awards – which recognize the best examples of performance, innovation, marketing and growth in fund industry – are coming back to New York June 15, 2023.

Awards recognize excellence in every aspect of asset management, ETF- and mutual-fund management and performance. Fund Directions‘ main focus is on the Fund Director Awards that recognize the best among the independent trustees responsible for oversight of all that activity, and the independent counsel who advise them.

Winners will be announced at an evening ceremony at 583 Park Ave. in New York City. Cocktails and networking will start at 6 p.m. with dinner and awards to follow starting at 7p.m.

We are proud to present the shortlist of nominated luminaries in each of four categories:

Look for more awards coverage, including a profile of our soon-to-be-announced Lifetime Achievement Award winner, in the upcoming digital issue of Fund Directions.

Congratulations, and good luck to all the nominees.

Below are the nominees for outstanding achievements as fund directors of boards with $30bn AUM or more.

Trustee of the Year

James Williams, SEI Funds

Williams, 76, has been a trustee of the $90bn SEI Funds series trusts since 2004. As lead independent trustee, a role he has played since January 2019, Williams presides over executive sessions of the independent trustees, facilitates dealings and communications with them, organizes board-meeting agendas in conjunction with the chairman and presides over board meetings during which the chair is absent. Williams serves on both the board’s audit and governance committees.

The board has nine members, seven of which are independents. An interested trustee, Robert A. Nesher, serves as chairman of the board, though the chair and members of both the board’s standing committees are independents. There are four funds in the trusts and 95 funds in the fund complex, according to a Feb. 3 SEI filing.

Williams, a former manager of pension-asset management at Ford Motor Co. has served as vice president and CIO of J. Paul Getty Trust, a nonprofit foundation for visual arts, since 2002. He was president of Harbor Capital Advisors and Harbor Mutual Funds from 2000 to 2002.

In February, his board submitted a comment letter on the SEC’s swing pricing rule, arguing that the rule was unnecessary in the eyes of shareholders and would end up limiting investor choice. The board said it had never before commented on a proposed regulation but felt a need to express its concerns.

John Finn, J.P. Morgan Funds

John F. Finn, 76, who has been an independent trustee on the board of J.P. Morgan Funds since 1998, was elected chair of the JPMorgan Mutual Fund Board in 2020.

He was elected chair of the Unified J.P. Morgan Funds Board as of January, 2022, when the company merged the JPMorgan Asset Management (JPMAM) boards overseeing mutual-funds and ETFs into a single entity with 16 directors overseeing 169 funds totaling approximately $960bn in assets as of January 2022.

The funds are part of the larger JPMAM business with a total of approximately $2.2tn under management as of September, 2022.

Finn, who has been chairman of lawn-and-garden supply chain management company Gardner, Inc. since 1974, first joined the JPMorgan board in 1998, when it was called the One Group Mutual Funds Board before moving up to the Mutual Fund Board when that was formed in 2005. He also served at various times as chair of the governance committee, a member of the ETF committee and a member of the Audit and Valuations Committee.

Under Finn the board also agreed to weigh in on regulatory issues as one of the most prominent boards to join the protest against the seeing-pricing rule the SEC proposed in November, 2022 that prompted 32 fund boards to write comments to the SEC protesting various aspects of the proposal, which inspired more than 3,000 comment letters overall.

The letter the JPMorgan board posted Feb. 14 went into detail about its objections to both the research underpinning the rule – which it called “misplaced” – and the requirements based on that reasoning, predicting that it would disadvantage smaller investors, those investing through intermediaries and those unfamiliar with swing pricing, potentially driving many away from traditional funds into less-regulated, more risky vehicles.

The board argued that the swing-pricing requirement would disadvantage smaller investors unfamiliar with swing pricing as well as those investing through intermediaries, potentially driving many investors away from traditional funds to less-regulated, less-secure investment vehicles, which could result in the elimination of some types of funds.

The board has also spent time during 2023 on a strategic effort to convert four of the mutual funds it oversees into ETFs.

Kathryn Quirk, Harbor Funds

Kathryn L. Quirk, 70, is the lead independent trustee of Harbor Funds, where she has served since 2017 on a board currently responsible for oversight of 27 mutual funds with $31.6bn in assets under management as of Dec. 31. 2022.

Since 2021 she has also been a trustee of Harbor ETF Trust, which oversees the operation of Harbor’s ETFs, including the first example in the industry of an existing mutual fund being merged into an existing ETF. The merger, which became effective in February, gave shareholders of Harbor’s High -Yield Bond Fund access to the liquidity and tax advantages of an ETF and gave a boost of $117mn in assets to Harbor’s Scientific Alpha High-Yield ETF after the merger became effective in February.

As lead independent trustee, Quirk was also lead author of the Harbor Funds’ board’s contribution to the unprecedented wave of comment letters 32 fund boards added to more than 3,000 comments received by the SEC demanding changes in the swing pricing SEC commissioners proposed in November, 2022.

Quirk has more than 35 years of experience in the asset-management industry including that included the role of head of U.S. regulatory compliance for Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and vice president and corporate counsel at Prudential Insurance Company of America.

Quirk is also a director and co-chair of the governance committee of Just World International Inc., a non-profit that funds educational and nutritional programs.

Thomas O’Brien, Prudential Insurance Mutual Funds

Thomas M. O’Brien, 73, is an independent trustee and former audit-committee chair who stepped up to chair the full board of Prudential Insurance Funds in January, 2022 following the mandatory retirement of former board Chair Thomas T. Mooney, who left in 2021 after 18 years on the board.

O’Brien, who joined the board in 1992, has served through many configurations, consolidations and changes of the fund complex, but currently heads a board responsible for oversight of 63 funds with approximately $145.2bn in assets under management. The complex includes the funds of PGIM Investments and funds managed by Advanced Series Trust – including the Prudential Series Fund, Advanced Series Trust, Prudential’s Gibraltar Fund, Inc., the PGIM Funds, PGIM High Yield Bond Fund, Inc., PGIM Global High Yield Fund, Inc., PGIM Short Duration High Yield Opportunities Fund, PGIM Private Real Estate Fund, Inc. and PGIM Private Credit Fund. The funds are a subset of Prudential’s global asset-management portfolio, which totaled approximately $1.4tn as of March 31, 2023.

O’Brien’s qualifications for the board come primarily from his long experience in senior-level banking positions and his directorships on other boards. Since 1984, O’Brien has held senior-level executive positions at banks including Sterling Bank and Trust, F.S.B., SunBancorp, Inc., State Bancorp, Inc., Atlantic Bank of New York, North Fork Bank and North Side Savings Bank.

Under O’Brien’s leadership, however, the board also joined a broad-based protest by adding a particularly scathing analysis to the comment letters contributed by 32 fund boards against the swing-pricing rule the SEC proposed in November 2022.

The Prudential Funds analysis suggested the proposal lacked enough evidence to justify changes as large as it proposed, applied too generic a set of solutions to a wildly diverse fund market and encouraged valuation procedures that would increase rather than eliminate inequitable treatment of shareholders.

“In the end,” the board wrote in its conclusion, “we hope that any proposal issued by the Commission is calibrated to apply appropriately to different types of funds and does not cause more harm than good.”

Thomas Whitford, Delaware Funds

Thomas K. Whitford, 67 – former audit-committee chair who has been an independent trustee for Delaware Funds since 2013 – was elected chair of the 12-person board as of Jan. 1, following the mandatory retirement of former chair Thomas L. Bennett, who had held the post since 2015.

The former audit-committee chair now sits on all the board’s committees, from which he played a critical role in the selection new counsel and a reorganization that included changes in the lineup of funds and transfer of come closed-end funds to a third-party advisory business, according to a nomination from colleagues on the board.

Whitford chairs a 12-person board with 11 independent trustees that is responsible for oversight of 127 funds in the Delaware Funds by Macquarie complex that is managed as part of the $240bn Americas division of Australia-based Macquarie Group, which holds approximately US$542bn in assets under management worldwide.

Whitford brought to the role considerable experience in the mutual-fund servicing business, according to a Jan. 4 SEC filing that noted his particular experience in the integration of corporate acquisitions, technology and operations and experience as chief risk officer during the 30 years Whitford spent at PNC Financial Services Group before retiring in 2013 after four years as the company’s vice chairman.

He has also held seats as a trustee with several fund organizations affiliated with HSBC USA Inc.

Next: Small Board Trustee of the Year