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CPPIB using its shareholder votes to push for more women on corporate boards: CEO

CPPIB using its shareholder votes to push for more women on corporate boards: CEO

TORONTO — Canada's largest retirement fund manager is pushing to have more women on corporate boards because diversity makes for better business decisions, CPPIB chief executive Mark Machin said Friday.

"This is a high priority for us," Machin said in an interview after Canada Pension Plan Investment Board released its second-quarter financial report.

"We think that diversity leads to better decision-making and I think there's a growing body of academic and practical evidence that leads to that (conclusion)."

As a result, CPPIB — which manages more than $325 billion for the Canada Pension Plan — voted 34 times this year against specific directors who chaired board's nomination committees that failed to include women as candidates.

Although none of the 34 targeted directors were defeated, Machin said that CPPIB believes it has a responsibility to take a leadership role and "would encourage other people to do the same."

The CPPIB, itself, has an equal number of male and female directors on its 12-member board, which is chaired by Heather Munroe-Blum, a former president of McGill University.

Machin said he thinks there's broad support in Canada for gender-parity but acknowledged that it can take a long time to change a board's makeup for various reasons, including the desire for stability and the right set of skills among directors.

"But when you actually push on it, I find that some of those can melt away," Machin said.

Earlier Friday, the CPPIB announced a slight increase in its net asset value of its CPP Fund, as positive international stock performances were moderated by negative Canadian bond and foreign currency returns.

The fund's assets were $328.2 billion at the end of the second quarter compared to $326.5 billion at the end of the first quarter of its fiscal 2018.

CPPIB took in $2.3 billion in net income after all costs, less $600 million in net pension plan outflows to the Canada Pension Plan — a national program funded by contributions from employers and employees.

On an annual basis, the Canada Pension Plan puts more into the CPPIB's funds than it takes out but the flow routinely goes the other way during the second half of the calendar year.

The portfolio garnered net nominal 10-year returns of 6.9 per cent and five-year returns of 11.8 per cent. Those results are above the 3.9 per cent average return required to sustain benefits for 75 years.

Still, the CPPIB acknowledged that its second-quarter returns were eroded by a strengthening Canadian dollar.

The loonie rose 6.6 per cent against the U.S. dollar over the past six months, as it does not hedge foreign currencies back to the Canadian dollar.

David Paddon, The Canadian Press