Julia Monfrini Peev MC/MPA 2016 helps 5.3 million Quebec residents invest in their futures.
By Mari Megias
September 27, 2017
“What interests me is that we work for real people.”
With these words, Julia Monfrini Peev MC/MPA 2016 captures the motivations of many alumni of Harvard Kennedy School—to serve the public and make the world a better place. From her perch as director of private equity and co-head of the health care sector for North and Latin America at Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ)—the public pension plan founded in the 1960s by Quebec’s government to manage the province’s pension funds—Monfrini Peev invests the retirement and insurance contributions of more than 5.3 million residents of Quebec.
Monfrini Peev has always worked at the nexus of the private and public sectors. “Professionally, I’ve always been in finance. And I’m the daughter of entrepreneurs”—her parents owned a small business in the south of France that worked on the first phase of the construction of buildings, such as flattening the earth and excavating land. “They taught me a strong sense of what’s fair and what’s not.”
At CDPQ, she says, “we have a fiduciary responsibility to create a return and safeguard people’s pensions. And we have the responsibility to do the right thing with their capital, and apply a disciplined, business-owner mindset.” Unlike many other investors, CDPQ takes a long view. “We invest very long-term capital,” she says. “Particularly in private equity, we stay invested and committed sometimes for several decades. Unlike others, we are not focused on financial engineering, but rather, on long-term value creation. This is why our partners like working with us—we bring a differentiated value-add to the table.”
She says that CDPQ’s mandate includes contributing to Quebec’s economic development. “This idea is in the DNA of the institution,” says Monfrini Peev. “And we want to do investments that make the retirees of Quebec proud of their capital.” She says she likes this aspect of her job because, as she puts it, “the finance industry often forgets the responsibility it has in the economy. At CDPQ, we connect the two poles of working in finance markets while having a public responsibility.”
As co-head of CDPQ’s health care practice, Monfrini Peev focuses on the health care industry in North and Latin America. “Many of our health care investments borrow attributes from impact investing. For example, we work to improve health outcomes while controlling costs.” In fact, the complexity of the U.S. health care system is one factor that drove her to attend the Kennedy School. “I wanted to understand where the system may be going, and where CDPQ might invest into businesses that are well positioned to offer solutions to systematic issues” she says.
Also very important to Monfrini Peev is the representation of women in financial leadership. “In private equity firms, women represent only 7 percent of the senior positions according to a recent study” by Preqin, a company that provides data to the alternative assets industry. “There’s a demand for women’s leadership in finance.” The Women and Public Policy Program [WAPPP] at HKS reinforced for her that there’s no magic trick to increasing the number of women in the field. “It involves investing in other women, having sufficient role models, and trying to change the way we recruit. CDPQ’s recruiting processes apply some of the principles emphasized in the work of Iris Bohnet [faculty director of WAPPP], and we now have more gender diversity than similar organizations.”
While she came to Harvard Kennedy School to learn from the School’s expert faculty, she looks back and says, “I learned the most from my classmates, from the stories student shared about their own experiences. I learned some things about persistence, resilience, and generosity from them. I thoroughly encourage people—especially women who are passionate about making a difference—to consider such programs.”
This dedication to helping women succeed has led Monfrini Peev to spend significant time outside of work volunteering with organizations that invest in women. “There’s no single way to solve this issue,” she says. “It must be worked on from the ground up”—something she knows both literally, from her parents’ construction firm, and figuratively, from her time at Harvard Kennedy School.