How Dr. David Bronner rebuilt Alabama’s retirement system, and its image

Posted On July 14, 2022

Dr. David Bronner wasn’t the first choice to lead the Retirement Systems of Alabama when the job was last open back in 1973. He wasn’t the second or third choice. He wasn’t even the 100th choice.

But he was the right choice.

Bronner, who grew up in Minnesota before coming to Alabama for law school, ended up running the state’s retirement system because neither of the two most powerful men in the state at that time – Gov. George Wallace and Paul Hubbert, then head of the Alabama Education Association – knew who he was. And therefore, after about 160 nominees had been rejected through a political tug-of-war between the two, neither objected to Bronner.

He was 28 years old, had recently completed his doctorate, and was the assistant dean of the University of Alabama Law School, which kept his parking space open when he left. “They didn’t think I’d really survive a month,” he said.

The story of what’s happened with the RSA since those beginnings under Bronner’s leadership is a valuable lesson: It doesn’t matter how you got the job or even if you’re set up to fail. All that matters is what you do with it.

In a recent episode of “What’s Working With Cam Marston,” Bronner shares how he took a $600,000 pension fund – one that was owed $1.5 billion by the state – and built it into one of the top 50 pensions in the world.

Along the way, he’s made some unconventional investments that have paid off handsomely. Chief among them are the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – an idea that was born of Bronner’s desire to challenge the segregation of private golf clubs – and 55 Water Street, an office building in New York City that has its own zip code and its own police and fire departments.

“We had to do dynamic things to change the status quo in Alabama,” he said, “to make sure it had the money to be able to afford the pensions the legislature had granted.”

In this episode, Bronner shares:

  • Why his first job in building the RSA was “triage” and how his status as a relative unknown helped him do it.
  • Why an investment like the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is good for not only tourism, but economic development.
  • The importance of advertising, and – if you can afford it – the wisdom of buying the advertising medium itself.
  • How the country’s current economic state differs from the previous bursting of the tech and mortgage bubbles.
  • How he’s gone about succession planning, and what he looks for in developing new talent.

Join us to hear from a man who has likely done more to positively shape the image of the state of Alabama and any other single person – all while solidifying and growing the wealth of its retirement system.

Categories: Advertising, Blog, Financial Services, Podcast, Real Estate, Succession Planning, What's Working with Cam Marston