The Screen Actors Guild – Producers Pension and Health Plans has selected Michael Estrada as CEO, replacing the retiring Christopher Dowdell.
“The decision to appoint Michael Estrada to CEO followed an exhaustive search conducted by Korn/Ferry International and a selection committee appointed by the Board of Trustees of SAG-PPHP,” said David White, national executive director, SAG-AFTRA and Chairman of the SAG-PPHP Board of Trustees. “Mr. Estrada’s track record with the Plans makes him the ideal candidate to guide the organization’s future and we are thrilled that he has accepted this position.”
Dowdell announced in December that he would retire.
Estrada joined the Plans in 2008 as director of investments and shortly after was appointed exec director of investments. He was subsequently promoted to the post of exec director of investments and finance, managing a staff of 45 and overseeing the pension plan’s $3 billion investment portfolio and the health plan’s $300 million investment portfolio.
Prior to joining the Plans, he worked for Merrill Lynch & Co. and eMind LLC, a web-based compliance management software company.
The Plans — which are jointly administered by trustees repping performers and the industry — have faced increased scrutiny in recent years due to the SAG-AFTRA merger and a pair of lawsuits filed by a dismissed executive.
The SAG health plan covers about 40,000 participants and while the retirement plan pays pensions to an estimated 9,000 beneficiaries. The SAG-AFTRA merger, completed in March 2012, was been touted by merger backers as a first step toward merging the SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans and those efforts gained some traction with the recent announcement of an agreement to allow reciprocity in earnings.
Eligibility for both the SAG and AFTRA plans is based on meeting earnings thresholds over a four-quarter period so merging the plans was heralded as a solution to the problem of performers falling short of the thresholds when their contributions were going to two different plans.
The SAG plan disclosed in December that performers may be able to combine the earnings reportable to the SAG plan and the AFTRA health plan in order to meet the dollar earnings requirement for Plan II eligibility, currently at $15,100 over four quarters.
Dowdell replaced Bruce Dow, longtime chief exec of the Plans, in April, 2012. Dow was at the center of allegations made by Craig Simmons, former exec director of human resources, in a 2012 wrongful termination suit against the Plans.
Simmons had filed a complaint with the federal government in 2011, asserting he was terminated for acting as a whistleblower about alleged embezzlement at the fund. The board of trustee denied the allegations.
Simmons alleged in the suit — and in the complaint filed with the U.S. Labor Dept. — that he was fired in March 2011 by Dow due to Simmons’ refusal to mislead board trustees and government investigators about embezzlement by the Plans’ former chief information officer, Nader Karimi. Simmons also alleged that Dow and other execs had misused funds for personal benefit.
The suit has gone to arbitration with a trial scheduled for April. As part of disovery, depositions have been taken of Dow and two execs, Amanda Bernard and Melissa Deeton.
Simmons filed a second suit against the Plans a year ago, alleging defamation and invasion of privacy against him in a letter sent to SAG members in December, 2011. Because of the existence of an arbitration agreement, all issues in the suits were consolidated into a single arbitration.