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CalSTRS COIO Debra Smith announces retirement

News release | Karen Doron

Former deputy chief investment operating officer Debra Smith. She wears a white jacket.
Debra Smith

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 13, 2020) – After 24 years of service, Debra Smith, Chief Operating Investment Officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, announced her retirement in February. She will continue to serve as COIO until May 7, 2020.  CalSTRS will soon conduct a competitive search for her successor.

“I am honored and privileged to work for CalSTRS’ trustees, staff and stakeholders to provide a secure retirement to our members and their families,” Smith said. “I have had a rewarding career at CalSTRS and look forward to applying all I have learned to the next stage of my career.”

Smith has had a decorated career in public government service that spans more than two decades. She began her tenure with CalSTRS in 1996 as a member of the Audits Branch. In 1998, she transitioned to the Investments Branch as an Associate Investment Officer and held progressively responsible leadership positions throughout her career. In 2010, Smith was promoted to the Investment Operations Director and served in this position for five years before she was appointed to her current COIO position in October 2014.

“We are so excited for Debra as she embarks upon the next chapter of her life, but we’ll miss her leadership, expertise and team spirit,” Chief Executive Officer Jack Ehnes said. “Her contributions have been remarkable, and her impact has been felt throughout our organization. CalSTRS is all about retirement so now it’s her turn.”

Reporting directly to the Chief Investment Officer and as a member of the executive team, Smith was accountable for CalSTRS’ enterprise strategic and business plan goals and objectives. She worked collaboratively with the senior investment management team and other business areas in support of Investments Branch initiatives and business plans. Smith was directly responsible for four critical functions within the Investments Branch (Operations, Performance, Compliance and Administration) and has led the annual comprehensive investment cost report for more than four years.

Smith added value to the organization by excelling in areas such as project and relationship management, budget management and risk mitigation. She has been committed to developing leaders through mentorship relationships, both within the Investments Branch and elsewhere in the organization, building upon trust and helping individuals identify their highest personal and professional potential.

“Debra has served as a pillar of integrity for CalSTRS for more than two decades,” Chief Investment Officer Christopher J. Ailman said. “Her vision and leadership on projects such as the annual investment cost report were invaluable, and she has molded future generations of CalSTRS leaders through her devotion to mentorship.”

Smith is an advocate for diversity and inclusion initiatives and actively participated in CalSTRS diversity efforts, including the Beyond Talk Workshops, to promote gender balance and advance diversity in the financial industry. In 2016, Smith was the recipient of the Sacramento Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Leadership in Business Award. Additionally, she served a three-year term as a member of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s Standing Advisory Group.

Media contact

Karen Doron
Phone: 916-414-1440
M-F, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. PDT

About CalSTRS

CalSTRS provides a secure retirement to more than 964,000 members whose CalSTRS-covered service is not eligible for Social Security participation. Members retire on average after more than 24 years in the classroom with a monthly benefit of approximately $4,547. Established in 1913, CalSTRS is the largest educator-only pension fund in the world with approximately $243 billion in assets under management as of February 29, 2020. CalSTRS demonstrates its strong commitment to long-term corporate sustainability principles in its annual Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Report. For more information, visit