My Career at MI Treasury: JON BRAEUTIGAM

Michigan Department of Treasury
9 min readMay 14, 2024
Chief Investment Officer Jon Braeutigam standing in front of a staircase with the MI Treasury logo at the top. “My Career at MI Treasury”.
MI Treasury’s Chief Investment Officer Jon Braeutigam

Chief Investment Officer Jon Braeutigam is the deputy treasurer over the Bureau of Investments (BOI), overseeing a team of 75 people, most of them investment, accounting or compliance professionals. Jon and his team are in charge of investing for Michigan’s eight different retirement systems, including the two largest: the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System and the State Employees Retirement System. In addition, this incredibly agile group stays on top of the market to invest in the ‘pots of money’ the state sets aside in permanent trust funds — broadly diversifying the funds into many different types of stocks, bonds and private equity investments. Here’s how Jon’s Treasury career began…

My Career Path

I’m a double Spartan. I was in supply chain management at Michigan State University and went straight into a master’s in finance. During that time, I became a student intern for the state of Michigan which transitioned into a job offer. I accepted and by 1990 I was working with a pension fund. It was a great match and what I really liked to do.

People think of investors as ‘numbers’ people, but accountants are numbers people, too, and the two groups usually have very different personalities. Investors are “I know the numbers, now I want to project what’s going to happen in the future”, where I think accountants are more “I know the numbers, and I want to put them in the right place”. Both functions are really, really important and they provide necessary balance.

I started as an investment analyst and then went on to be an investment specialist. I became head of real estate in 1997 (today, that role is now referred to as a senior investment management position). Ten years later, I became chief investment officer. Jackie Johnson was the former CIO, and she was transitioning out and tagging me in on different meetings. I ultimately got the job and started in 2008 and have been doing it ever since.

It’s not like I know everything. We have many experts at the Bureau of Investments who are really knowledgeable, and I enjoy our robust discussions about different industries, different stocks, different bonds, and different strategies. We’re always challenging each other. It’s a pretty big world out there and we touch it in a lot of different ways through our investing.

There’s a lot that goes into an investment strategy. Starting with an investment policy statement, we decide what we’re trying to achieve. Knowing our objective and the rate of return we’re supposed to shoot for, gives us an indication of how much risk we should take. We do an asset allocation, which helps us break down how many stocks or bonds we should have in a very formalized process. Once we set up the allocation we do our jobs and actually invest the money into the different areas. There’s a lot of work that goes into that by staff to make sure we’re selecting the right manager and selecting the right securities to purchase. We’re always monitoring markets to make sure we’re following macro trends, and making sure our managers are not switching their strategy on us and straying from what we want them to do.

On the accounting side, we have staff that accounts for all of the transactions, year round — that’s a really big effort. I would guess that about 25% of the state of Michigan’s annual report comes from the Bureau of Investments and the trust funds we handle.

There are MOMENTS

Of course, there are moments when things shift unexpectedly. The Great Recession in 2009 was one of those momentous shifts where the economy goes downhill very quickly, and big companies follow it out of existence. The Great Recession was probably the biggest challenge of my career.

The state of Michigan experienced falling revenues because the economy was really, really poor. Stocks and bonds were falling because the economy was falling — it was this big, negative feedback loop. But we managed to get through it and the state managed to make payroll, and looking back, it’s hard to remember how intensely bad things were at the time. I was a year into my job as chief investment officer, and we had to really buckle down and make sure we were making the right decisions.

We went through our ‘book’ every single day and looked at each of our investments in detail. It was a time when banks were failing and safe investments were going bad, so my staff and I reviewed which actual securities we owned around the world and evaluated if they were going to be good investments or not.

Man in suit looking down a chart depicting plummeting financials

Companies were going out of business overnight and stocks could pretty quickly become worthless, yet we still had to make benefit payments. It was a huge team undertaking. Some of the people who went through that with me are still at Treasury, and I’m still grateful to them for their efforts.

One of the things I love about Treasury is the conscientious people I work with, both now and back in the crisis of the Great Recession. We’re all in the same boat, we’re all rowing in the same direction. My position is not a one person job; many people have to be involved on a day to day basis to make our work successful, and my team makes coming to work at the Bureau of Investments something I look forward to every day.

March 2009 was really dour, but the stock market rebounded fairly quickly from a very, very low level. Once the stock market leads, you’re hopeful that the stock market is getting it right and won’t crash again. In this instance, it didn’t, and that was the first sign of hope.

After getting though the Great Recession, other pension funds switched how they invested and chose to make very conservative decisions. We said, “No, we think we’re going to have a pretty good run here with the stock market”, so we held fast to our asset allocation and didn’t adjust it more conservatively. And that decision really benefited Michigan in a big way. There were a number of state treasuries that got very conservative, and that cost their taxpayers a lot of money. It wasn’t just my decision; our team, the State Treasurer, the state policymakers were all united in our plan. It was a massive choice at that fork in the road and we took the right fork and went on to experience a decade of growth. I am proud that it was a great success for Michigan, but admittedly there were some very stressful moments!

Public Service is a Privilege

My staff and I love that the work we do serves Michigan’s retirees and ultimately our taxpayers. Our public service mission produces good financial results and means less money that taxpayers have to put into the trust funds for retirement. If you’re at a corporation, you’re helping that corporation — and there’s nothing wrong with that. We need great corporations. But in working for the state of Michigan, you’re helping people and that feels good. If you do a good job, you feel like you’re helping the whole state! We meet with retirees frequently and that’s one of the highlights of my job. I enjoy speaking to stakeholder groups and I want to do well by these people.

Leadership

If I have a leadership style, I would like to think it’s focused on serving my employees. My door is always open, and we have a lot of discussions. I love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas and to encourage them to come up with strategies. I like to be involved, but I like to give employees as much autonomy as I can, while keeping risk controls on. We’re professionals so my employees know my expectation is, “don’t bring me problems without coming up with ideas!”

BOI staff standing in a row thumbs-up, with a long-time investment manager
Jon and BOI staff with a long-time investment manager

Treating people with respect goes a long way. We’re looking for employees who want to treat people with respect and professionalism while looking out for the whole organization. I also want to make sure we’re hiring people that I would like to work for — it’s one of the lenses we’ve used at BOI for a long time. When you get a group of people who are operating with these behaviors, your department becomes an optimal place to work.

The Bureau of Investments is broken down into small units; we manage a lot of money, but each area has a smaller area. Every new employee is going to be in contact with an asset and a high level decision-maker right off the bat, and I feel like that’s an exciting entry for a lot of people.

My Mentors

I’ve had a long career. When I first hired into the state, Phil Whipple took a chance on me as a student, offering me guidance and letting me know how the department was run.

Philip VanSyckle, who came from private industry, knew a lot about commercial real estate and shared his knowledge with me when I worked in the pension fund in the early 1990s. Phil helped me learn how to underwrite real estate investments, and how to make good investments and form good decisions. He knew a lot and was open to me asking questions, which made his mentorship and my learning process a lot of fun.

Jacqueline Johnson, Treasury’s chief investment officer prior to me, was instrumental in letting me know how other parts of the pension fund operated. I was solely in real estate at the time, and she gave me a broader picture of the whole pie rather than just one slice of it — so I learned how BOI interacts with stakeholder groups and other parts of Treasury and state government.

Treasury Success Skills

My success skills are in a lot of ways, basic: Show up and do your job. Treat people with respect. Be honest. Take your job seriously; you’re serving the public and they deserve to be honored and served well. In addition…

Communicate respectfully. Get to know your colleagues a little bit, get to know your boss as a person. Listen to honest feedback from a good boss, take it to heart, adjust and thrive. If your boss doesn’t give feedback, you can go ask them, “How am I doing?”. Interaction and communication are critical to your career.

Take the initiative. At BOI, where we’re investing millions of dollars, I expect people to take the initiative. In my leadership role I’m not trying to make every decision because I can’t, there’s too much information, too many investments. So I want people to say, “Hey, this is what we should do and why” — it’s a quality I look for in an employee. When I look around at different leaders throughout Treasury, I think they’ve all had the qualities of being naturally inquisitive and solution-oriented. They ask “why.”

Enjoy work-life balance. There are a lot of different areas in Treasury, and lots of room for career advancement. There’s room for career growth and for personal growth. I think Treasury’s got a pretty good can-do culture, and my advice would be to enjoy your job and enjoy life. Try to stick with Treasury — it’s been a great place for me, and it’s been wonderful to serve the public.

Invest in yourself. Because of my job, I do not give investment advice to individuals. My advice is exclusively for the state. I will tell you, 401(k) and 457 plans are an excellent way to start tax-advantaged saving. Sign up for a 401(k) match if that option is available to you through your employer and beyond that, save as much as you can. Save early and save often!

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My Career at MI Treasury is a series designed to highlight the many unique paths to professional success within the department. For current information about Treasury Careers, please visit our website!

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Michigan Department of Treasury

The Department of Treasury is committed to maintaining Michigan’s financial integrity. Contact: 517-335-7508