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Karl Polen | Chief Investment Officer of Arizona State Retirement System


Karl Polen did not start out with his sights on real estate. He left his Midwest roots for Nashville at 19, eventually playing with the likes of Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash.

“One of the highlights of my life is that I actually met and chatted with Johnny Cash. He was an incredibly gracious guy.”

Karl credits music for shaping his professional career by teaching him the type of discipline and focused effort it takes to become successful.



When he needed a steadier paycheck, Karl went on to work in accounting and received his MBA at Vanderbilt. He was drawn to an entrepreneurial culture, worked with Ed Robson of Robson Communities in the 1980’s, and then joined Francis Najafi, Founder of Pivotal Group, as a partner in real estate investment. Working with these driven entrepreneurs was incredibly fulfilling, and Karl thrived in his role as he helped focus and implement the larger vision.



Karl had long intended to work in public service after being inspired by his work on various boards over the years, and during the global financial crisis in 2010, he left Pivotal Group and transitioned from the board to staff with AZASRS.

Here, he has transformed their approach to real estate by focusing on demand-driven investing.

“We eliminated a middleman, we were able to have more control over our destiny in terms of selecting the type of deals we wanted to do, and then we also have more control to be able to exit an investment or increase an investment, depending on how things are going.”

Because they are a small staff of nine, they work closely with their consultant RCLCO to identify the right markets and partners for success.



Follow your bliss. Experiment. Find out what means something to you, then dig as deep as possible, become the best you can be, and find a market for it.

Don’t be afraid to take risk.

Be prepared to reinvent yourself and be ready to adapt.



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