Mark Machin doesn’t believe in only straight-line career paths. Curiosity, application and a willingness to take calculated risks and seek new challenges – these are some of the attributes he would say that guide the career of a successful finance professional.
Yet for someone born in 1966, the same year that the Canada Pension Plan was created, and who was appointed CEO of the CPP Investment Board within days of his birthday, it is hard to rule out destiny entirely.
As a young man applying to university in his native England, Mark’s curiosity about how the things work led him to the field of medicine. “It always surprised me that many people don’t fully understand what’s going on inside them, how their own bodies work,” says Machin. He pursued undergraduate and graduate medical studies and research at Cambridge and then Oxford, and became a medical doctor in 1990.
But learning how things work ‘on the inside’ was only the beginning for Mark. During his time at university, he had also become interested in the wide world of business and finance. And so, after practicing for one year, he decided to set out on an entirely different path.
“A main driver of how the world works – how buildings get built, why innovation happens, how businesses grow – is capital. At the time I had no understanding of these things. So I applied to banks and one was open-minded enough to give me a job – and to pay for me to learn again.”
Machin’s new employer, Goldman Sachs, had a keen eye for talent and growth opportunities. In 1994, they asked him to help to be part of the team establishing their capital markets business in their newly-opened Hong Kong office. Having never set foot in Asia, this was the perfect challenge for someone like Mark.
“I was expecting to try out living in Asia for a couple of years. That was twenty-two years ago.”
Machin rose steadily through the ranks during his two decades at Goldman Sachs Asia, running at various times their Capital Markets, Financing and Investment Banking businesses. He ended his tenure as their Vice Chairman of Asia based in Beijing, and joined CPPIB in 2012, where he took the helm as Senior Managing Director and President, CPPIB Asia Inc.
For the past three years, Mark has been responsible for all of CPPIB’s international investment activities, the overall management of its global advisory relationships and the leadership of its organization in Asia. From the perspective of shaping a future leader of CPPIB, one could not imagine a better education than this. Hong Kong was CPPIB’s first international office, and the Asia Pacific market today (including Japan) represents more than 18% of the CPP Fund’s global assets. About 81% of the Fund is invested outside of Canada.
The transition to a new CEO often signals a change – or at least the expectation of change – in strategic direction for an organization. In this case, the opposite is true. Machin’s appointment underscores the Board of Directors’ confidence in the overall strategy adopted by CPPIB a decade ago and also the more recent direction of our strategy under Vision 2020 – Mark was a member of the Senior Management Team throughout that strategy work.
In fact, when Mark was asked recently what the greatest challenge is that he faces as incoming CEO, he answered, “The expectation for big changes. That’s not going to happen. We have a very clear strategy that builds on our distinct structural advantages: a very long investment horizon, a stable and predictable flow of money into the Fund, and the size of our assets. Our active management strategy was designed with great care and with a view to the long-term future. And our medium-term roadmap, which was painstakingly developed by the senior management team and Board over the last three years, clearly establishes our direction for the next few years. We’re now deep in the process of implementing that roadmap, and that’s what will be on my plate for the foreseeable future.”
In addition to learning how things work, building them is Mark Machin’s other passion. And he likes to build things that are important to people.
When at Goldman Sachs, he told an executive recruitment firm that he had begun his working life as a doctor and then spent the next two decades building a first class financing and investment banking business in Asia. The next move had to be something that ideally combined elements of the two and really did something worthwhile for the world. The recruiter called him some time later and said “Mark, if you take this job at CPPIB, you can wake up every morning knowing you’re doing something worthwhile for 18 million people.” Although he knew little about the organization, that was the hook that Mark needed to hear.
Taking on new challenges comes easily to Machin. “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky with what I’ve seen and been able to do in my life. When I think of the privileges I’ve had, I am very grateful. It helps me keep perspective.” That perspective has led Mark and his wife to become deeply involved in charities that support migrant women and vulnerable children; to fund medical research at Oriel College, Oxford and support other medical research charities; and to volunteer with charities focused on environmental protection and prevention of environmental pollution harming children’s health.
Mark is not making the 12,500 kilometre journey from Hong Kong to CPPIB’s Toronto headquarters alone. He is accompanied by his Australian spouse Melissa and their daughters Chiara, age 12 and Kalia, age 8. While it’s a major move for the family, they are well-prepared. Melissa attended the University of Toronto for three years, and the children have attended summer camp in Ontario.
Outgoing CEO Mark Wiseman has also been mentoring Machin on the finer points of Toronto culture for the past four years. As Machin says, “Thanks to Mark, amongst the many aspects of Canadian culture he has schooled me on I’ve also studied the bat flip in great detail and I know who Joey Bats is.”
When asked what the most important thing is that he’s learned over the years, Mark’s response reflects his own choices and career path. “The most important thing is to stay open-minded and curious, to be up for challenges and opportunities.”
The same can be said of the organization he now leads.