Former CPPIB CEO Mark Machin launches private capital platform

By Barbara Shecter

About a year and a half after Mark Machin’s decision to fly to Dubai for a COVID-19 vaccine led to his abrupt resignation from the top job at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, he has re-emerged as chief executive of a new private capital platform in partnership with Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and investor Joe Lonsdale.

Opto Investments Inc., the newly launched venture led by Machin and Lonsdale, has raised US$145 million in a Series A funding round, which pegged Opto’s value at around US$475 million at the time of the fundraising, according to a source with knowledge of the platform.

The funding round was led by Tiger Global Management LLC, with participation from 8VC, where Lonsdale is managing partner, Michael Dell’s MSD Capital LP and other investors including Clocktower Technology Ventures LLC, Fin VC and HOF Capital Management LLC.

Machin in an interview said he, too, “made a significant investment” in Opto. “This is something I believe in, put money in and became a co-founder.”

Machin said he met Lonsdale — an early institutional investor in Oculus VR Inc., a virtual-reality platform later acquired by Meta Platforms Inc. — at an event in Quebec with other tech investors and operators about six years ago.

“We stayed in touch over the years,” Machin said of Lonsdale, who was also a co-founder of Palantir Technologies Inc., a sometimes-controversial data-mining software company. Machin said their discussions evolved to include whether he could become an adviser to some of Lonsdale’s ventures and possibly take on a larger role once he left CPPIB.

Machin, a British citizen, became chief executive of CPPIB in 2016 after a career that included two decades with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and several years in Asia. He was with Canada’s largest pension for about four years, serving initially as senior managing director and head of international from a base in Hong Kong, before rising to the top job.

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In February 2021, Machin, who trained as a medical doctor before switching to finance, flew to the United Arab Emirates and received a COVID-19 vaccine before they were widely available in Canada, and at a time when the Canadian government was advising against non-essential travel.

Machin had guided the nearly $476-billion CPP pension fund to an annualized five-year return of 9.7 per cent since taking over as CEO. But when his trip to the UAE became public, there was an outcry, including a rare political rebuke from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and he resigned.

He has kept a fairly low profile since leaving CPPIB, but a little more than a year ago, he joined the board of Singapore-based Serendipity Capital Holdings Ltd., a financial services investing firm founded in 2020 with a focus on artificial intelligence, DeFi, quantum computing and climate.

Machin is also an adviser to GIC Private Ltd., which helps manage and invest Singapore’s government reserves, a role that was previously filled by former CPPIB CEO David Denison.

Opto has partnered with more than 80 registered investment advisers, and will use the funds raised to secure investment opportunities, scale its business and add to its 45-member team, according to a news release issued Tuesday morning.

“At CPP Investments, one of the largest global asset owners, I was privileged to be able to access the best private investment opportunities in the world,” Machin said in the release. “These top private investment opportunities are rarely made available to individual investors; Opto’s mission is to change that.”

He said the vision for the new platform, which will take initial management fees and, if things go well, performance fees over the longer term, is to use technology and innovation “to break down barriers and give privileged access” to investment advisers and their clients.

Machin said he considered several options after leaving CPPIB, from positions within large organizations to starting a fund on his own.

“In the end, this got me more fired up. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it,” he said. “I thought building from the ground up would be really thrilling … rather than taking another organization and enhancing it.”

Lonsdale will be chair of the venture.

“The world is staring down daunting challenges in this decade and beyond,” he said in the release. “Our experience in Silicon Valley and the United States innovation ecosystem is that well-funded entrepreneurs can solve these problems and create prosperity.”

Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who was considering launching his own activist investing fund last year, joined Lonsdale’s San Francisco-based venture capital fund 8VC as an adviser in 2017.

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Source: Yahoo! Finance