Frederick Biro Reflects on Two Decades-Plus Involvement with OMERS Governance
February 2, 2023
On Dec 31, 2022, Frederick Biro retired from the OMERS Sponsors Corporation Board of Directors -- after more than 20 years of service with both that board, and with the OMERS Administration Corporation Board of Directors. He generously shared some of his candid thoughts on the role of a director and the value of the OMERS Plan.
We hope you enjoy these insights.
“You Get So Much Out of the Work You Put Into the OMERS Boards”
On January 1, 2000, Frederick Biro became the very first member of the OMERS Administration Corporation’s Board to be nominated by the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards (OAPSB). By the time his involvement with the AC Board wrapped up in 2013, Mr. Biro had gone on to serve a two-year term as AC board chair as well as hold the leadership of several board committees. Along the way, he also served as a board member with Associated British Ports, an OMERS Infrastructure investment located in the UK. And from 2014 until the end of last year, he was a member of the OMERS Sponsors Corporation’s Board.
Asked if he could single out what he feels to have been his main achievements as a board member, Mr. Biro modestly emphasized that, “when we’re speaking about the AC or SC boards, it’s always about the collective effort of the different board members working together. As an individual, you get so much out of the work you put into the OMERS Boards.”
As far as his own individual contributions to OMERS governance, Mr. Biro said: “I believe I always worked to keep the focus on what matters most, which for a pension plan ultimately has to be the individuals who make up its membership.”
He added: “Let’s look at things from the AC perspective. Yes, OMERS is a globally-active investor, with ownership stakes in significant, high-profile assets. That is definitely important, but it is not the entire OMERS story. Our membership is very complex, and includes everyone from executives of large municipal electricity distributors to the custodians of your local public elementary school just around the corner.”
“From a membership composition perspective, OMERS must rank amongst Canada’s most complex pension plans. Our members have a shared interest in the pension plan, but there’s tremendous variety amongst them, geographically, occupationally, in terms of their employer, and so on,” Mr. Biro continued.
Mr. Biro’s “lightbulb moment” regarding OMERS members, as he calls it, came in November 2002, while he was attending a celebration for his father-in-law’s 80th birthday near Peterborough, ON.
As he wrote in his message as AC Board Chair in the 2005 OMERS annual report:
I happened to stop by a table of six women and discovered that four of the six were OMERS pensioners, two of whom were receiving survivor benefits. They, in turn, had been informed I was a relatively new member of the OMERS Board. Unanimously and without any prompting on my part, they praised the Plan. As one said, “It means so much to all of us. Without my monthly cheque, I don’t know how I’d get by.”
That is when I fully realized the true purpose of the OMERS Plan and the difference it makes in the lives of our members.
Another constant of Mr. Biro’s involvement with OMERS governance has been his personal commitment to director education. He earned his Chartered Director designation from the Directors College in 2006, for example. In 2014, Mr. Biro completed the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management Board Effectiveness Program for Pension and Other Long-Horizon Investment Institutions. In addition, as opportunities presented themselves, Mr. Biro has also spoken on pension-related matters at international and national events.
“Attending workshops and lectures where experts speak is a good way for a director to keep up to date. But in my view, what can be even more helpful is talking to directors at other plans and exchanging views. That’s been a big benefit of when I have gone out to conferences as a speaker on pension governance, for example” he said.
“Pension plan governance involves a host of complicated matters, ranging from understanding the liabilities to a given member population to grasping the intricacies of the assumptions built into a particular plan’s return projections. Over time, completing further education related to your duties as a director helps you become a better-rounded member of the board,” he continued.
Now that Mr. Biro has formally taken the OMERS pension he paid into through 25 years of involvement with police governance in Ontario, as well as ended his involvement with OMERS governance – what’s next?
“A friend recently joked with me that there are three stages of retirement – ‘Go go,’ ‘go slow,’ and ‘no go,’” Mr. Biro laughed. “I am definitely in the ‘go go’ stage right now. As an OMERS pensioner, I know very well the liberty and flexibility that the monthly pension cheque provides.”
In addition to keeping in touch with old friends and planning some travel with his spouse now that the COVID lockdowns have eased, Mr. Biro has had some preliminary discussions about serving on some additional boards. “It will have to be something that piques my interest and that summons the same level of passion and sincere interest that I brought to my OMERS director roles,” he said.
Mr. Biro’s other passions include writing fiction; indeed, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he published three science fiction novels. He plans to republish two of these books, and also expects to get a previously-unpublished sequel novel into print.
The excitement and energy in his voice as he shares these plans leaves one with the distinct impression that it’s going to be a long time before Frederick Biro shifts from “go go” to “go slow.”