Happy Birthday to Mutual Funds, and More From MFS

When employees at MFS Investment Management gather this week to mark an important industry milestone, they’ll also be recognizing an important transition that’s underway in the firm’s C-suite.

MFS recently announced that chief investment officer Ted Maloney will take over as chief executive next January, succeeding Michael Roberge, who will become executive chair. The transition is taking place as MFS celebrates the 100th anniversary of the world’s first mutual fund, created at MFS on March 21, 1924, to help improve access to the stock markets for everyday investors. MFS will host employees at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway to celebrate the big birthday on Wednesday, coinciding with the firm’s annual global sales meeting in Boston.

MFS has consistently picked its chief executive from its investment team, Roberge said, to highlight the importance the company places on investing knowledge. The next chief investment officer will be Alison O’Neill, who will be promoted when Maloney becomes chief executive.

MFS, a division of insurer Sun Life Financial, is emphasizing in-person work, postpandemic. The firm extended its lease at 111 Huntington Ave. with Boston Properties last fall through 2038, for its 313,000-square-foot headquarters in the Back Bay, at a time when many financial companies are scaling back. Most of the firm’s roughly 1,500 Boston employees are in the office on Tuesdays through Thursdays, though many come in more frequently.

Maloney said MFS has generally been conservative in its workforce growth, to avoid disruptive layoffs when times get tough.

“A number of firms in our industry have downsized,” he added. “We’ve been extremely careful with how we grow. We don’t just grow when times are good.”

Don’t expect big changes anytime soon at MFS. Maloney is in no rush to chase the hot trend in his industry: passive investing, in which funds model indexes such as the S&P 500. Passive funds have low expense ratios, because they are more automated than active funds in which managers pick specific investments based on their merits. MFS focuses on active management, with no passively managed funds among its $600 billion-plus in assets under management. Roberge said many MFS customers have some money in passive funds, but MFS offers an alternative, one that has proven successful over a long period of time.

“We think, over 100 years, the firm has built something really special [and] we’re about staying the course on that,” Maloney said. “The passive space is a scaled technology business. We’re very clear where we are world class and where we are not.”

Question time with Mayor Wu

Being mayor isn’t always easy.

Just ask Boston’s Michelle Wu, who fielded several questions from New England Council president Jim Brett about the challenges her administration faces at a meeting of Brett’s business group last week.

On congestion pricing, or charging more to drive at peak times of the day or in busy parts of the downtown, Wu said it’s important to be open to all opportunities to improve the region’s transportation system. But she worries that congestion pricing, currently under consideration by the City Council, would cause an extra burden for workers who can’t afford it, if not paired with improved public transit.

With regard to the 2 percent transfer fee on high-end property sales that Wu wants the Legislature to approve, she says the money would be crucial for affordable housing construction in the city, especially as federal pandemic relief funds go away.

Then there’s the threat of declining office tower values. Wu said this could shift more of a burden onto residential taxpayers, a shift she hopes to mitigate with special legislation that’s in the works. “This is less about the city’s tax revenue collection,” Wu said, “and more about protecting residents from a shock that could come.

Blue Cross CEO aims to hold the line on health costs

Sarah Iselin is sounding the alarm.

Iselin worked in state government as a health care expert about 15 years ago, during the implementation of a then-new state law that ensured nearly all residents had some form of health insurance. Now, Iselin leads Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and faces a different challenge: health care costs.

She spelled out what’s at stake last week in a discussion with Brooke Thomson, chief executive of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, at the Alkermes office in Waltham. The AIM event coincided with the news that statewide health care spending in 2022 rose by nearly 6 percent — twice as high as the goal rate set by state officials. It was the highest percentage increase, Iselin said, since the state first started tracking the info.

Iselin said she understands the challenges faced by health care providers, particularly during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the solution to higher expenses, she said, can’t be simply writing bigger checks. It’s not sustainable. Blue Cross is in tough negotiations with some providers, Iselin said, talks that could lead to Blue Cross parting ways in some cases.

“The asks that are coming in are extraordinary,” Iselin added. “We’re continuing to hold the line. . . . Every single person at Blue Cross wakes up thinking about affordability.”

From clicks to bricks: Wayfair opens first big-box store

Wayfair is about to open its first large brick-and-mortar store in May. But the home furnishings retailer probably won’t be rolling out many big boxes across the country anytime soon.

Chief financial officer Kate Gulliver fielded questions about the Boston company’s strategy for physical stores at two investor conferences last week — an event hosted by Bank of America in Miami, and then at one hosted by UBS in New York. She talked about the roughly 150,000-square-foot superstore that Wayfair has planned for a Chicago suburb, as well as a smattering of 10,000-square-foot locations Wayfair opened in recent years under the Birch Lane, AllModern, and Joss & Main banners.

Gulliver said most home furnishings in the United States are still purchased “offline” — in brick-and-mortar locations — and Wayfair wants a piece of that action. As a major online retailer, Wayfair already has significant purchasing power, vendor relationships, and a distribution network that could support a big-box chain. And Wayfair is experimenting with its smaller stores to test staffing, technology, training, and the merchandising mix of smaller and bigger items.

As far as when the next superstores open, Gulliver said Wayfair is in no big rush.

“We do want to take some time to figure it out,” Gulliver said in response to a question from UBS analyst Michael Lasser. “It’s quite important that we understand how these stores are working before we go and stamp out a bunch of stores. We think that there’s a lot of opportunity [and] we do intend to be quite thoughtful and prudent.”

Can Curtatone launch the “Davos” of climate?

Can Joe Curtatone succeed in helping to create “the Davos of the East Coast”?

That’s what the president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council says he and other organizers are hoping for with the newly announced ClimaTech conference, planned for June 3 through 5 in Boston, at the MGM Music Hall, House of Blues, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The conference will bring together policy leaders, startups, and executives at more established companies in the climate-tech sector. The event is owned by Advertising Week parent Emerald Holding and Novus Group, the public affairs firm led by former Boston city councilor Paul Scapicchio.

The organizers have already lined up key sponsors, including founding partner National Grid as well as GE Vernova, Fenway Sports Group, Live Nation, and Hydro-Quebec. However, the event website doesn’t list the speaking program yet.

Curtatone said he has been working with Scapicchio on this for more than 18 months, and with AdWeek for about a year. He hopes to highlight the many climate-tech companies in this region, even though the goal is to draw visitors from around the world.

“The Commonwealth is at the epicenter of climate tech innovations,” Curtatone said. “Our Commonwealth has a lot to highlight. So this is a global event with a very hyper local appeal.”

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