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Best Minds: Kirsty Jenkinson and Julie Donegan, California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)

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How does CalSTRS balance the mandate to generate returns in the short term while staying true to its long-term mission, including incorporating ESG into the decision-making process?

In this episode of Conversations with the Best Minds in Real Estate, RFA Managing Director Cyndi Thomas sits down with California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)’ Investment Director of Sustainable Investment & Stewardship Strategies (SISS), Kirsty Jenkinson, as well as Portfolio Manager Julie Donegan, who leads the team responsible for residential assets within the portfolio, including development activity, acquisition, business plan execution, and Real Estate Operating Company ownership.

In addition to discussing both leaders’ career journeys into real estate, they also deep dive into their attention to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). The group discusses CalSTRS’ 2050 Net Zero pledge, the goals of the SISS team, and and the role of affordable housing within the real estate portfolio.

About Kirsty Jenkinson, CalSTRS

Kirsty Jenkinson is the Investment Director, Sustainable Investment & Stewardship Strategies for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the largest educator-only public pension fund in the world with over $280 billion of assets under management. She joined CalSTRS in January 2019 and is responsible for managing over $9 billion placed with sustainability and activist managers, overseeing the fund’s stewardship activities including corporate engagement and proxy voting, and outreach with the fund’s stakeholders.

Prior to joining CalSTRS, Kirsty spent four years at Wespath Benefits and Investments in Chicago and four years as the director of the Markets and Enterprise Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, D.C.-based global research organization focused on the environment and economic development. Before moving to the U.S., Kirsty was a Director of Governance and Sustainable Investment at F&C Asset Management (now BMO Global Asset Management) and an Executive Director in the Fixed Income division of Goldman Sachs in London. Kirsty sits on the board of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and is a member of WRI’s Sustainable Investment Advisory Council. She received an M.A. degree in International History from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

About Julie Donegan, CalSTRS

Julie Donegan joined CalSTRS in December 2019 as a Portfolio Manager.  She leads the team that is focused on residential assets in the CalSTRS Real Estate portfolio which includes development, acquisition, and Real Estate Operating Company ownership.  The residential portfolio is predominantly invested throughout the U.S. with select international exposure.  Julie’s work experience includes nearly ten years at Franklin Real Asset Advisors where she served as a Senior Vice President and was a voting member of the Global Real Estate Investment Committee.  While at Franklin, Julie focused on manager due diligence, underwriting as well as client responsibilities.  She also served as a Senior Vice President with Eastdil Secured where she focused on manager due diligence, private fund structuring, joint ventures and structured finance transactions.  Julie began her career at CalPERS where she was an investment officer responsible for the $2.0bn non-core real estate program.   She holds a B.S. in Business Management. Julie is a member of PREA (Pension Real Estate Association) and CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) where she served on the National Board of Directors and has been a member of the Sacramento chapter for more than 20 years.

About Cyndi Thomas & RCLCO Fund Advisors

Cyndi Thomas is a Managing Director at RCLCO Fund Advisors where she focuses on driving the performance of asset plans for an extensive portfolio on behalf of various pension fund clients. Previously, Cyndi was a partner and executive vice president at Etkin Johnson and oversaw the management, financial performance, and business strategy for the company’s extensive Colorado portfolio. Other experience includes real estate acquisitions, financing, restructurings, and asset management at CenterSquare Investment Management, Buchanan Street Partners, and Clarion Partners. Outside of RCLCO, Cyndi is a member of the Urban Land Institute – Small Scale Development Product Council and the Chairman of the CU Real Estate Center International Advisory Board. She attended the University of Wisconsin, where she received a BBA, Real Estate and Urban Land Economics, and the University of Colorado, where she received an MBA and MS, Finance.

Established in 2011 and an SEC Registered Investment Advisor since 2014, RCLCO Fund Advisors advises institutional investors on real estate investments through its analytical rigor, highly customized client-centric service, and impassioned search for alignment. With over $75 billion in real estate assets under advisement, RFA’s diverse and experienced team offers a differentiated approach to real estate investing to address the unique challenges faced by institutional investors through its focus on demand-driven investing, real estate operations, and partnership alignment.


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