People, performance and potential are among the priorities Cheryl Alston has always held dear in her role as Executive Director and CIO of the Employees’ Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas. Cheryl has led the $3.1 billion pension fund for 12 years. Cheryl provides leadership for the Fund’s staff in implementing the programs necessary to achieve the mission, goals and objectives established by the Board of Trustees.
Between work and raising two daughters, Alston staffs a host of volunteer positions. In 2011, Cheryl was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) Advisory Committee and completed two terms. The PBGC protects the retirement incomes of more than 44 million American workers in 27,500 private-sector defined benefit plans and has $80+ billion in assets. Cheryl also chairs the Finance & Strategy committee for a large Catholic healthcare system and chairs the investment committee for the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Cheryl is a noted speaker on asset allocation, manager selection and risk management for institutional investor conferences.
Cheryl is the first African American and the first woman to be the executive director of the Dallas pension fund. Alston, knows all about being an anomaly — starting at the all-girls Catholic high school in Connecticut where she was one of two blacks in the honors program. Her parents, a nurse and a truck driver, sacrificed to afford her tuition at Lauralton Hall. After her mother encouraged her to take a shot at the Ivy League, Alston got into the University of Pennsylvania. She was recruited into Chase’s management development program fresh out of the Wharton undergraduate program, where she’d gotten a degree in economics. She received her MBA in Finance from the Leonard. N. Stern School of Business at New York University. After a career in investment banking and real estate at Chase, Cheryl moved to CIGNA’s Retirement and Investment Services Division.
After spending more than a decade as a top allocator, Cheryl Alston wants to add more women, people of color and a youthful note to that mix. The Next Generation Investment Manager Program, approved by the Dallas ERF Board in 2012, has proven the value of this approach. The program allows for a 10% dedicated allocation to earlier stage managers with strong performance and maintains the funds governing principle of fiduciary responsibility. The key objectives of the Next Generation Program are to generate investment returns by providing access to investment opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked; discover and cultivate the next generation of external portfolio management talent; and increase diversification among ERF managers.
In 2016, Cheryl received Institutional Investor’s prestigious Investor Intelligence Network Award for her significant contributions to the industry through her work with Emerging Managers. It’s not about diversity for diversity’s sake, says Alston. It’s a matter of better returns and making sure the fund’s 15,000 municipal workers and retirees have a secure retirement. Alston worries that if up-and-comer investment firms aren’t nurtured, their scant number will dwindle even further. “Ten years from now, we don’t want our choices to be just large firms.” Since the fund began its Next Generation Managers program in 2012, about $185 million has been put into the hands of emerging money managers.
In 2004, she and her husband moved to Dallas from the East Coast. Her husband, Roy Alston has a Ph.D in Leadership and Organizational Change and 25 years of experience in leadership, management, and supervisory skills training. Dr. Alston served as one of seven researchers from across the country who wrote a report for the U.S. Justice Department about the handling of the fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo. Roy is the author of several books The Leader’s Compass for Law Enforcement Professionals: A Values-Based Approach to Influencing People, Accomplishing Goals, and Improving Your Organization, RadioActive Leadership: How to Pursue Excellence and Positively Influence the Behavior of Others, and a contributing author to Mastering the Art of Success featuring Les Brown, Mark Victor Hansen, and Jack Canfield.
Cheryl’s time away from Dallas ERF is spent volunteering with her daughter, teaching her the value of service and giving back. “You do not have to have a lot of money to give back,” she says. “Anybody can serve.”