Rick Smirl, a partner and chief operating officer at William Blair Investment Management in Chicago, will be the new executive director of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.

SWIB manages more than $115 billion in assets, the bulk of which consists of Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) funds. The WRS is the ninth-largest public pension fund in the U.S., serving more than 600,000 active and retired public employees, and currently stands at $106.3 billion.

Smirl, 50, will start in late January, at a base salary of $400,000. He succeeds Michael Williamson, who will retire after heading SWIB for five years.

Smirl called the job “an exciting opportunity.”

“I was attracted to SWIB because of its compelling mission and focus on being a trusted and skilled global investment organization contributing to strong financial futures for the beneficiaries of the funds,” Smirl said.

Smirl has been with William Blair Investment Management since 2004. Before that, he was chief legal counsel of the former Strong Capital Management firm in Milwaukee. He also has been a partner at the Keesal, Young & Logan law firm in Los Angeles.

Smirl has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California-Irvine, and a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

David Stein, SWIB board chairman, said Smirl “possesses the management and leadership experience to lead an innovative, agile and integrated investment organization like SWIB into the future.”

Smirl was born in Wisconsin and grew up in California. He and his wife, Holly, a Wisconsin native, have three children. The family has a vacation home in Delafield.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.