Former Florida retirement system leader Ash Williams leaves with state funds at an all-time high
The Florida Retirement System (FRS) until recently was led by a man who helped make the system a model for states around the country.
“We went on a buying spree when everybody else was terrified and selling, and we've been getting paid for it ever since,” says Ash Williams, who retired in September as head of the State Board of Administration (SBA).
Known for his bow ties as much as his financial prowess, Williams managed a range of state investments including the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and money for local governments. He’s been a fixture around the Capitol for the last 13 years, plus another 5 years in the early 90s.
Between stints at the SBA, Williams spent years in various areas of the private sector until Florida came calling again during the 2008 recession. Under his leadership, state worker pensions stayed intact. The FRS recently hit a quarter of a trillion dollars and earned the state the highest possible credit rating of AAA. “By the way,” he mentions, “the United States government is AA.”
While Williams has retired from the state, he may not be done with his career. “I would like to do something. I think I can contribute here and there,” Williams says, adding “stay tuned.”
Given Williams’ wealth of knowledge regarding state investments, we asked him for an exit interview of sorts.
-On returning to lead the SBA during a recession: “We were literally staring into the financial abyss. It was unclear whether global financial systems could survive or not. It really was that big of a question. I've never seen anything like it, and I've been around for quite a while.”
-About the stress of managing billions of dollars in funds for state workers and retirees: “We were under an assault, politically and in the press; lots of doubt. We knew we were doing the right things for the right reasons, and it was just a question of letting things play out long enough to see the benefit of our efforts. I suspect a similar thing may be underway over at the FSU football program right now.”
-Parting words for Floridians and lawmakers: “There’s honor in public service. I would encourage young people to consider public service and what they can add to make things better and to contribute. Honoring public service with a pension fund is a good thing. So, having spent a good part of my career taking care of the retirement income of the million people in Florida who chose to give their lives to public service is a good thing. I'm proud to have done it.”
Click the “LISTEN” button to hear the entire interview with Ash Williams.