Franklin Templeton Hires Former Calpers Investment Chief for Asia Push

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Ben Meng,

the former investment boss of the nation’s largest pension fund, is joining

Franklin Resources Inc.

BEN 1.17%

for its push into Asia.

As executive vice president and chairman of Asia Pacific, Mr. Meng will help oversee the San Mateo money manager’s strategy in the region. He will also lead its China business.

The firm known as Franklin Templeton is turning to a former investor for a Chinese state institution. Mr. Meng was deputy chief investment officer for the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the agency in charge of China’s foreign reserves, between 2015 and 2018.

A China-born U.S. citizen and civil engineering Ph.D, he took on the top investment role at California Public Employees’ Retirement System in 2019. Mr. Meng’s return to the investing community comes roughly a year after he resigned from Calpers.

He left amid an internal review that touched on whether his personal investment holdings violated conflict-of-interest rules. A state commission also examined Mr. Meng’s conduct. There is no evidence Mr. Meng steered money into firms to boost his shareholdings, which he also reported. Mr. Meng hasn’t been notified of charges or fines on the matter.

Mr. Meng, who had stints at Barclays Global Investors and

Morgan Stanley,

helped Calpers’s returns beat peer performance by some 2 percentage points in the year ended June 2020.

Franklin Templeton plans to announce his appointment as soon as Monday morning. Mr. Meng, 51, will join the firm’s executive committee. He will also manage money in his role leading the firm’s private equity, venture capital and other alternative investment strategies for Asia Pacific clients. His position is new.

He reports to Chief Executive

Jenny Johnson.

She is the fourth member of the Johnson family over three generations to helm the firm founded by her grandfather. Ms. Johnson is the face of an asset manager that has gained new scale. Shortly after she became CEO, Franklin Resources bought Legg Mason in a 2020 purchase that roughly doubled its assets under management. It oversees $1.5 trillion today.

Mr. Meng’s arrival reflects Franklin Templeton’s ambitions to be bigger in Asia. Despite rising U.S.-China economic and political rivalry, the firm is competing with many other Wall Street firms for profits and assets in China. To succeed, asset managers have to navigate a tightly-regulated market, dominant state-backed firms and challenges distributing funds.

Franklin Templeton has a 49% stake in a joint venture with a Chinese firm to sell funds to Chinese investors. It is expected to seek full control of the venture. In 2020, it was approved by Chinese authorities to raise money from institutions and wealthy investors in China in 2020 for certain investment products.

Mr. Meng’s time as Calpers CIO was his second stint working at the pension fund. Known to former colleagues for his enthusiasm for quantifying and mapping investment risks, Mr. Meng’s attempt to reform a pension beset by board fights, turnover and funding gaps ended after about a year and a half on the job. At Calpers, his foreign work experience also drew scrutiny from a congressman who also expressed concerns about the pension’s holdings of Chinese companies.

In his role at Franklin Templeton, Mr. Meng will be based in California and travel extensively in Asia.

“I am excited to build upon the firm’s nearly 75-year history and to be part of its next phase of growth in the Asia Pacific region,” Mr. Meng said in a statement.

Write to Dawn Lim at dawn.lim@wsj.com

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