Following a failed palace coup, one of Berger Funds' top managers is out the door and another is said to be looking for a new job, according to several sources.
Amy Selner, who posted triple-digit returns last year running Berger's
Mid Cap Growth and
Small Company funds, was sent packing after trying to oust the company's CEO, Jack Thompson, the sources say. Berger announced Thursday that she was leaving, though there was no official comment on the reasons behind the departure.
Her departure is the latest in a series of upheavals at the $7 billion fund company. She's the fourth portfolio manager to have left in the past 18 months, and the bloodletting may not be over yet.
Tino Selitto, who manages the
Growth and Income and
Growth funds and co-manages
Select, most likely will be gone by year-end, say people close to the company. Selitto teamed with Selner in trying to remove Thompson, though he wasn't as vocal as she was, the sources say.
"You can't have the two flagship funds being run by a disgruntled employee," says a former Berger staffer.
Calls to Selner's home and Selitto's office were not returned. Thompson declined to discuss the matter when reached at his office. But several sources familiar with the situation spoke to
on condition they not be identified.
According to their accounts, Selner, 31, and Selitto, 35, wanted to wrest more control of the company's operations from Thompson. When he refused those entreaties, the pair appealed to the board of parent company
Kansas City Southern
but got the cold shoulder.
That didn't sit well with Thompson, who told Selner to find another job while Berger looked for a replacement.
By several accounts, things have been rough at Berger for about six years, since founder Bill Berger retired and sold a majority stake to KCS. Things have gotten worse in the past year as KCS moves toward a planned spinoff of its financial units that will lump Berger,
and mutual fund-processing operation
into one organization, to be called
Janus, which has experienced runaway success with its hard-charging growth style, has resisted being grouped with the other two financial units. But Berger, because of middling performance and an unimpressive asset base, has not been in a position to negotiate with its railroad parent.
Investors may not care much about the politics between Berger and KCS, but bickering among portfolio managers over how the Berger funds should be run has had more of an impact and has resulted in a growing list of Berger alumni.
According to former employees, Berger suffered from a power struggle between two groups of portfolio managers and analysts. On one side were managers who emphasized valuations in their growth picks, represented by Pat Adams and John Jares. On the other were momentum-driven aggressive growth investors Selitto, Selner and colleague Mark Sunderhuse, manager of
William Keithler started the recent exodus by leaving, in late 1998, for
, where he runs the
Technology fund. Adams, who ran the Growth (then called Berger 100) and Select funds, was pushed out in May 1999 after a period of sketchy performance. He started his own mutual fund firm in Denver, called
. Jares, skipper of the
Balanced fund and co-manager of Select, took a job with
In addition, four analysts also left. Another analyst, Rick Wynn, quit on Monday to join
Next month, Jay Tracey III will join Berger, where he and Sunderhuse will run Selner's old Mid Cap Growth and Small Company funds on an interim basis. Tracey started his investment career at Berger in 1976 as an analyst. As a portfolio manager with the
Oppenheimer Enterprise fund, Tracey posted decent returns, though he's faltered lately. In his new job, he'll also be the chief investment officer, a newly created position that Berger says it needs in light of its recent growth.
Until this past year, performance had been lackluster at Berger. But Selner's two funds and two others, New Generation and
Information Technology, turned in triple-digit returns in 1999. But the hyper-growth style has hurt several of the funds. Mid Cap Growth, New Generation, Select and Growth are underperforming their peers this year by wide margins.