On Monday, Florida pension chief Ash Williams plans to be the keynote speaker for some of the world's most powerful hedge fund managers and financial executives. They're meeting at the $500-a-night Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, and some paid $50,000 or more for sponsorships to woo potential clients.
Network 2011 — organized by a top hedge fund lobbying group — will feature panel discussions, cocktail receptions, product exhibitions, hospitality suites and a round of golf on the Breakers' Ocean Course. Over three days, investment managers, brokers, bankers and others will discuss their latest deals and strategies — from derivatives and futures to legal and accounting services. Coming off the worst financial crisis in decades, they're making a special push to woo public money — like the $126 billion pension fund that Williams keeps tabs over.
Wonder what he's going to say at the keynote luncheon?
So do we, since his speech is closed to the public and the St. Petersburg Times is shut out of the event.
The Managed Funds Association, the conference organizer, says it invited only a select group of journalists and is "at capacity for press." A partial roster of attendees lists the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and a few trade publications, but no Florida press.
As executive director of Florida's State Board of Administration, Williams signs off on investments for more than 1 million current and future retirees and hundreds of cities, counties and schools districts. At the Palm Beach conference, Williams likely will run into investment firms he does state business with, and others that are seeking state business.
A former hedge fund executive himself, Williams didn't respond to our request for an interview. A spokesman said Williams was out of the office and would not do an interview.
Sort of odd for a guy who says he is all about transparency and last week told a Florida Senate committee considering pension reform that sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Taxpayers are paying for Williams' flights and lodging, but he won't be staying at the Breakers. He plans to check into a $111 room at a Marriott late Sunday and leave for Tallahassee after his speech Monday afternoon.
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