Milwaukee County Pension Fund Holds Onto Strong

January 21, 2004 ( - Strong Financial Corp. will continue to manage $121.5 million for the Milwaukee County Pension Board.

The decision to keep Strong on board was made at the county’s monthly pension board meeting.   In attendance on behalf of Strong was F. Jon Baranko , managing director of Strong’s institutional investment program and E. Timothy Hennig , senior vice president of Strong’s institutional investment program, which manages the Retirement System’s pension fund, according to a Milwaukee County Sentinel report.

Baranko and Hennig originally were to have been joined by Kenneth Wessels , named chairman and chief executive officer of Strong December 2 after founder Richard Strong resigned amid allegations of personally profiting from timed trades (See  Retirement Plan Changes on Tap at Strong ). However, Wessels was unable to make the Pension Board meeting due to a prior commitment.

January’s vote by the pension board was not without a dissenting voice.   Concerns were raised about the outflow of assets from Strong funds.   Various reasons were given for the funds runoff, including the withdrawal of $330 million by five institutional investors, however, Milwaukee County officials were reassured by Baranko that the fund runoff would not affect the performance of the Retirement Systems’ invested funds.

Additionally, Baranko and Hennig discussed the impact of other changes at Strong, including the December 4 announcement that the company was for sale and the year-end decision to stop contributing corporate match funds to the 401(k) retirement accounts for Strong’s 1,300 employees (See Retirement Plan Changes on Tap at Strong ).   Answering questions from the board, Baranko said no suitable financial partners have yet been found for the firm, but officials anticipate Strong will arrive at a decision regarding a sale or partnership within 60 to 90 days.

The loss of the hometown asset management contract for the Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Strong could have been potentially devastating. Since allegations were lobbed from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer againstStrong Financial head Richard Strong that he routinely used his fund company to personally profit at the expense of his investors, assets at the mutual fund and investment management firmhave dropped to $38.1 billion, down from $44.5 billion since before the allegations (See   Trading Probes Muscle Out Strong, Putnam Chiefs).