Executive Director, Employees’ Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas
Cheryl D. Alston is the Executive Director of the Employees’ Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas, Texas (“ERF”), a $3.1 billion pension plan for the City’s civilian employees. Cheryl began her term as Executive Director in October 2004 and 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. Cheryl also serves on the Board of CHRISTUS Health, a Catholic, faith based international health care system and serves as Chair of the investment committee and Vice-Chair of the Finance and Strategy committee.
In 2011, Cheryl was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) Advisory Committee. The PBGC protects the retirement incomes of more than 44 million American workers in 27,500 private-sector defined benefit plans. In 2010, Cheryl was selected as one of the Rising Stars of Public Funds by the editors of Institutional Investor News as one of the up-and-coming professionals poised to be future leaders of the industry.
In addition to serving as Executive Director for the Fund, she is a member of the Council of Institutional Investors (CII), the National Council of Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS), the Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems (TEXPERS) and the National Association of Securities Professionals (NASP). Cheryl serves as Vice-Chair and Treasurer of the Volunteer Center of North Texas and the Advisory Board of Texas Wall Street Women.
Cheryl has over twenty years of expertise in the financial services industry. She served as an Executive with CIGNA Retirement & Investment Services. Prior to CIGNA, Cheryl has served as a Corporate Banking Officer at Chase Global Services, providing investment banking services for Fortune 500 clients. Cheryl has an M.B.A. in Finance from the Leonard N. Stern School at New York University and an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
USAA Asset Management Company – Vice President of Mutual Fund Portfolios
Julianne has been Co-Manager of the High-Yield Opportunities, Short-Term and Intermediate-Term Bond Funds since 2007. Since 2012 she has been co-manager of the Income Fund. Julianne joined USAA in 1999 as a Senior Fixed Income Securities Analyst covering high-yield securities. Prior to working with USAA Julianne had 12 years of investment experience with Van Kampen Funds, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs & Co, The First Boston Corporation and Drexel Burnham Lambert. Julianne earned an M.B.A. in Finance from the University of Houston at Houston, TX, and a B.B.A. in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin, TX. Julianne is a designated Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Julianne is a member of the CFA Institute and the San Antonio Financial Analysts Society.
Chief Investment Officer
Crestline Investors, Inc.
Ms. Cooley is Chief Investment Officer of Crestline’s Hedge Fund Solutions business and leads the Oversight Committee for Crestline Summit Equity Alpha fund. She also serves on the firm’s Investment and Executive Committees. Ms. Cooley has over 33 years of experience in the alternative investment industry as a portfolio manager, risk manager and trader. Ms. Cooley has led the Hedge Fund Solutions team at Crestline, overseeing manager selection and portfolio management, since joining the firm in 1998. Before joining Crestline, Ms. Cooley was a derivatives trader and risk manager with Taylor and Company, an investment firm associated with the Bass Family of Fort Worth, TX. Ms. Cooley began her career in the investment industry at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company (later merged into JP Morgan) in New York and Chicago after receiving her B.A. in Economics from The College of William and Mary in 1983. Ms. Cooley serves on the Advisory Board of Texas Wall Street Women and is the Vice-Chair of the Investment Advisory Committee of Texas Employee Retirement System.
Crestline Investors, Inc., founded in 1997 and based in Fort Worth, Texas, is an institutional alternative investment management firm with approximately $9 billion of assets under management. Crestline specializes in credit and opportunistic investments, as well as hedge fund and beta solutions. In addition to its Fort Worth, Texas headquarters, Crestline maintains affiliate offices in New York City, Chicago, London, Toronto and Tokyo.
Michelle Underwood Gass, CPA, CFP®
Principal, Paradigm Advisors
Michelle U. Gass, CPA, CFP® is founder and principal of Paradigm Advisors, an independent fee-only financial advisory firm. Michelle has a passion for helping people and resolving complex issues for her clients while navigating their path towards financial freedom. Her diverse experiences working in different areas of finance – accounting, tax, family office environment, hedge funds and ultimately becoming an entrepreneur – make her uniquely qualified. Michelle’s professional career started in public accounting at Arthur Andersen, where she learned firsthand the positive impact of strategic tax planning on wealth accumulation. After transitioning into investment management and nontraditional investment strategies, she founded Paradigm and successfully managed alternative investment funds for over two decades. Michelle has a Masters of Accountancy with a concentration in Taxation and an undergraduate Accounting degree, both from the University of Tennessee. She has served on the Advisory Board of TXWSW since inception and is active at their church and with various community organizations. Michelle and her husband have two grown children.
Carla Knobloch, CFA
Manager, Owners Fund
Principal, Owners Advisory LLC
Carla Knobloch manages the Owners Fund, a fund of concentrated funds that she started in 2005. She previously served as the Chief Investment Officer of the Brown Foundation. During more than twenty years in the investment business, she has worked in research analysis, portfolio management, company management, and investment manager search and selection with a focus on long term oriented investing.
Carla received her BA in Economics from Yale College and a CFA designation. Carla serves on the Board of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and chairs its Finance Committee, the Board of Houston Wilderness, a number of investment committees and is active in Education Reform including Yes Prep Public Schools.
Deputy Chief Investment Officer
Employees Retirement System of Texas
Sharmila Kassam, Esq., CPA, is the Deputy Chief Investment Officer for the Investments Division at the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS). She works closely with the Chief Investment Officer and staff managing investments in all asset classes to develop internal best practices, analyze asset allocation, oversee external management, and pursue new initiatives. Sharmila is a liaison between internal and external stakeholders working on policy and agency strategic initiatives, including the $25 billion pension trust and $2 billion Texa$aver 401(k) / 457 Program, the voluntary defined contribution plan for employees of state agencies and some higher education institutions. Prior to her current role, she served as an Assistant General Counsel at ERS for five years during the initial stages of its private equity program, leading legal negotiations with multiple fund sponsors and later working closely with the private real estate and hedge fund teams as they developed their programs.
Before joining ERS, Sharmila was an associate at Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, focusing on securities, mergers/acquisitions, and corporate governance. She worked at multiple start-up and technology companies in financial and operational roles prior to entering the legal profession. She began her career as an audit associate at Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceWaterhouseCoopers).
Sharmila is a licensed Certified Public Accountant and also licensed to practice law in California and Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting, with honors, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Texas of Austin.
Partner, Santa Fe Partners
Mari Kooi is currently a partner in an Investment Partnership, Santa Fe Partners. She manages her family office and serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Santa Fe Institute where she chairs the Finance Committee. Mari is also the recently retired CEO and owner of Wolf International Companies, a group of investment companies she founded in 1997 while living in Geneva Switzerland. In this role as CEO, Mari managed a highly successful business with twelve international funds including responsibility for all investment management, business management, and product development to an international clientele. Her particular expertise is entrepreneurship, financial management, risk management, and fund structuring. Some of her financial specialties include commodities, complex fixed income derivatives, options, high frequency trading, futures, and activist investing. Wolf International served over 300 clients worldwide, including international banks, pension funds, trusts, States, private banks and private individuals. The Company ceased most operations in 2014.
Mari is now transitioning to her “governance” phase of her career taking on more leadership roles in the non-profit sector. In 2015 Mari intends to join one corporate board. Her considerable experience in this realm caused the Financial Times to put Mari on its inaugural list of “The Agenda Diversity 100”, prestigious International Board of Directors Guide. The list identifies Fortune 1000 Company Board Candidates.
Darlene Ingram Mann
Retired in March, 2016 after 46 year career at Bank of America/U S Trust and its predecessors, where she was Managing Director, U. S. Trust, responsible for Trust Group in West Texas , Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Darlene is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin.
Darlene has served on several boards including: Women’s Haven, Cliburn, Texas Ballet Theater, WARM Place, Kupferle Breast Center, Harris Foundation, Streams and Valleys, Fort Worth Club and the Fort Worth Business and Estate Council.
Darlene is married with 2 children and 5 grandchildren.
Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer
Fort Worth Employees’ Retirement Fund
Joelle Mevi has served as the Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of the Fort Worth Employees’ Retirement Fund since March 2014. This leadership role is responsible for all aspects of the day-to-day administration of the $2.1 billion defined benefit trust Fund, including implementation of Board policy, strategic planning, investment program oversight, benefit administration, stakeholder outreach and staff development.
Joelle has over 20 years of governmental finance and investing experience. Before moving to Texas in 2014, Joelle served as CIO of the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association’s $13 billion defined benefit trust and $400 million 457 Plan and as CIO for the New Mexico State Treasurer’s Office, investing the State’s $4 billion operating funds and procuring a AAA money market fund rating for the $1 billion Local Government Investment Pool. She also served as the Cash and Investment Officer and Chief Accountant for the City of Santa Fe NM prior to entering State government.
Joelle earned an M.B.A. from the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management and an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from California State University East Bay. She holds a Government Finance Manager Certification from the Association of Government Accountants and is a member of the National Council of Public Employees Retirement Systems, the Texas Association of Public Employees Retirement Systems, and the Government Finance Officers Association.
Co-Founder, Texas Women Ventures Fund
Carol is a co-founder of the Texas Women Ventures Fund. She is also a Charter Investor in the fund. A former executive with Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, Carol has over 26 years of experience advising and connecting growing companies to capital.
Carol has been a leader in capital access initiatives for business owners and in creating organizations for business women. Carol is a Co-Founder of the NAWBO Dallas micro-loan program, Capital Concepts, Inc. and the Executive Women?s Partnership in Houston. She serves on the Advisory Council of Springboard Enterprises, a national initiative to connect women entrepreneurs to venture capital and on the Advisory Board for the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington D.C. She has served as an Advisory Director of a private equity fund which invests in minority and women-owned businesses and an Advisor to the Fort Worth Women?s Business Assistance Center. She is also a member of Golden Seeds, an angel investor network.
Carol is a frequent speaker or panelist on the topic of growth capital for emerging businesses.
Carol is a Dallas resident. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of Georgia with degrees in Economics and Political Science and received her MBA from Tulane University.
Lisa A. Peterson
Partner, Akin Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Lisa A. Peterson is a Partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where she counsels investment vehicles, high-net-worth individuals and companies in all of their transactional activities and day-to-day business needs. Lisa’s practice involves a wide array of corporate and transactional matters, including: mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; corporate governance and other general corporate matters; the formation of complex joint ventures, partnerships, limited liability companies and strategic alliances, as well as numerous types of commercial matters; investments in private equity, venture capital, hedge and real estate funds; direct investments in corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies; co-investments; secondary transactions; and other similar matters, and advice to private investment funds in the full range of their fundraising and investment activity.
Lisa serves on several firm committees and is a member of the Business Law and Computer and Technology sections of the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association (Business Law Section and Energy Business Committee) and the Tarrant County Bar Association (Business and Estate, International and Women Attorneys Sections); and a Fellow in both the Texas Bar Foundation and the American Bar Foundation. Lisa’s community, civic and charitable activities include being a former director and an officer of Resolana and a member of the Grants Review Committee of the Dallas Women’s Foundation. She also serves as a member of the Board of the Dallas Chapter of The General Counsel Forum.
Lisa has been recognized by Fort Worth Texas magazine as one of Tarrant County’s top corporate/mergers and acquisitions attorneys and she has been named one of the “Great Women of Texas” by the Fort Worth Business Press. Lisa received her J.D. from the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University and her B.S. in Accounting, cum laude, from Louisiana Tech University.
Managing Director, Alix Partners
Becky Roof brings a unique perspective to her turnaround and crisis management engagements. With over 25 years of experience, her credentials consist of an equal blend of corporate and consulting experience. Becky?s tenure as vice president and CFO of a Houston-based oilfield services company provides her with an enhanced perspective of the corporate and operating issues faced by management, other stakeholders and their representatives. She also possesses an extensive consulting background providing interim and crisis management to troubled and underperforming companies in a broad array of industries.
Prior to joining AlixPartners, Becky was a director in the corporate finance, regeneration and disputes practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Previously, she provided litigation support, fraud investigative work, and corporate recovery consulting services for Ernst & Young LLP.
Becky is a Certified Management Accountant, a Certified Insolvency & Restructuring Advisor, and a CPA (licensed in Texas). She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and Bachelor of Arts degree in geology from Trinity University, where she was a university scholar. She is a member of the Turnaround Management Association, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and is on the Board of Directors of the American Bankruptcy Institute.
Executive Director, Houston Municipal Employees Pension System
Rhonda Smith is the Executive Director of the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System
(HMEPS), a $2.1 billion pension plan for the City’s municipal employees. Rhonda has been with the System since 2008 and began her term as Executive Director in August 2011. Smith provides leadership for the System’s staff in implementing the programs necessary to achieve the mission and goals established by the Board of Trustees which includes managing the System’s investment portfolio.
Rhonda has over twenty years of experience in the financial field. She served as senior auditor for both Deloitte & Touche and Occidental Petroleum. She headed the City of Houston’s franchise section of the Regulatory Affairs Division and assisted in creating the audit team.
After her tenure at the City, Smith became the Chief Financial Officer of the American Red Cross of Greater Houston. Smith then was recruited by the Houston Firefighters’ Relief & Retirement
Fund (HFRRF) as Deputy Director, where she worked until she began her job at HMEPS.
In addition to serving as Executive Director for the Fund, Rhonda was appointed to the Executive Board of the Government Finance Officer Association (GFOA) where she was Chair of the Audit Committee and currently serves as a member of the Nominating Committee. She is also a member of the National Council of Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS), the Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems (TEXPERS) and the National Association of Securities Professionals (NASP). Rhonda has also been nominated to serve as Chair of the American Leadership Forum Investment Committee.
Smith has an M.B.A. in Finance and Management from the University of Houston, C. T. Bauer College of Business and a B.S. degree in Accounting from the Ohio State University Fisher School of Business.
Laura T. Starks, Ph.D.
University of Texas
Laura T. Starks is the Chairman of the Department of Finance, the Charles E. and Sarah M. Seay Regents Chair of Finance, and Director of the AIM Investment Center in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. She has done extensive research on finance issues including research that focuses on corporate governance and institutional investors. Her publications have appeared in the leading academic journals and she has presented her research at universities all over the world. She has received a number of awards for her research including the 1996 Smith Breeden Distinguished Paper Award from the Journal of Finance, the 1997 Western Finance Association Best Paper in Corporate Finance Award, the 1998 Financial Management Association Best Paper in Corporate Finance Award, the 2002 and 2003 FMA European Meeting Best Paper Award and the 2003 Fama-DFA Second Prize from the Journal of Financial Economics. She was named a Fellow of the FMA in 2002.
She is an Editor of the Review of Financial Studies and has served as Associate Editor of a number of finance journals, including the Journal of Finance, Review of Financial Studies, and Financial Management. She has served on the Board of Directors of the three national academic finance organizations: the American Finance Association, the Western Finance Association, and the Financial Management Association. She is an independent director for the CREF Retirement Accounts and the TIAA-CREF Mutual Funds and serves on the Governing Council of the Independent Directors Council. She was previously an independent director for USAA Mutual Funds. She has served on the Investment Advisory Committee for the Employees Retirement System of the State of Texas since 1990 and is currently Chairman of the Committee.
Allison K. Thacker
Vice President for Investments and Treasurer, Rice University
President, Rice Management Company
Allison K. Thacker joined Rice University in 2011 as Vice President for Investments and Treasurer and President of the Rice Management Company with the responsibility of managing a $4.5 billion endowment fund. The Rice University Endowment ranks in the top 20 endowments of private research universities in the US. Prior to joining Rice University, Ms. Thacker spent 11 years with RS Investments, a San Francisco‐based investment firm specializing in public equities, with over $20 billion in asset under management. Ms. Thacker was Managing Director for RS Investments from 2009‐2011 where she managed a ten person team responsible for five mutual funds and two institutional strategies with $1.9 billion under management. Before assuming the role of Managing Director at RS Investments, Ms. Thacker was a Portfolio Manager (2003‐2011) and an Analyst (2000‐2011) at RS Investments. In the earlier portion of her career, Ms. Thacker served as a Summer Analyst at Putnam Investments
and as a Financial Analyst in the energy investment banking group at Merrill Lynch & Co. She was a founding board member of KIPP Heartwood Academy, a college preparatory charter school serving East San Jose, California, is currently a member of the KIPP Houston Executive Board, a member of the Houston Ballet Board of Trustees and a board member for Black Stone Minerals. Ms. Thacker is a graduate of Harvard Business School where she received a MBA and has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with honors from Rice University.
Laura Lanza Tyson, Esq.
Managing Director, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Private Equity Fund
Laura L. Tyson serves as Managing Director, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer of an energy focused private equity fund. The fund focuses on investing across various facets of the global natural resource industry including the upstream and midstream segments of the energy complex. Laura has over 16 years of experience working on corporate and securities transactions. Prior to joining the private equity fund in February 2014, she was a Partner at Baker Botts L.L.P. and was a member of the MLP, Energy and Private Equity practice groups. She advised private equity funds, hedge funds and other investors in fund and special vehicle formation as well as in the conduct of their investment activities and represented issuers, underwriters and investors in a variety of equity and debt offerings and mergers and acquisitions. While at Baker Botts, Ms. Tyson’s practice was focused on the energy sector and MLPs, including those engaged in coal mining, pipeline transportation and gathering, storage, oil and gas exploration and production, compression, shipping and propane, and she served as outside counsel to the energy private equity fund on both portfolio company investments and co-investment structuring beginning in 2008. Additionally, she created and launched the SteelPath MLP Funds, the first mutual fund focused on investing exclusively in master limited partnerships. Prior to becoming a Partner at Baker Botts, Laura was a Corporate Associate at both Baker Botts and Winstead, P.C. She graduated from McNeese State University with a B.S. in Economics and Finance in 1993 and received a JD from the University of Houston Law Center in 1997.
Ellen Wood, CFA, CPA
Ellen Wood spent eleven years investing for hedge funds in Dallas, most recently as portfolio manager and partner at Carlson Capital, with prior experience as an equity analyst at Paragon Associates. She recently retired from her full time business career to have more time to invest in a balanced portfolio of investments, and philanthropic interests.
For the past fifteen years she has served on various community and alumni boards, foundations and committees primarily focused on women, youth and education. She is looking forward to serving on the Advisory Board as the organization has a similar philanthropic focus.
Ellen received an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BBA in Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. She has earned both the CFA and CPA designations.