JAMES BENHAM:

FULL FAITH AND CREDIT


In 1972, when The Benham Group of Mountain View, CA, launched its flagship Capital Preservation Fund, it marked the first-ever no-load fund consisting solely of short-term U.S. Treasury bills. The instrument was the brainchild of James M. Benham, '59, M.A. '61, a major pioneer in the field. In February, after merging with the Twentieth Century funds, Benham's new combine--with $37 billion in assets, two million shareholders, and 62 funds--ranked as the nation's 15th largest mutual fund company. Benham credits MSU for his success. "All my ideas were fertilized at MSU," he recalls. "I had a professor called Andrew Brimmer (the first black to become a governor of the Federal Reserve Board). He was very smart and he turned me on about money and banking." Birmmer once assigned Jim to research the international movement of gold. "I did all the monkey work and got a footnote out of it," says Jim with a chuckle. "But that work gave me the foundation." A native of Virginia, Jim received a trumpet scholarship and played in the MSU Marching Band. "The 1956 Rose Bowl was a wild experience," he recalls. "We went by charter train, had all these fancy meals, sleepers, lots of fun." After MSU, he drove to California "with no money and no clothes, just bills." But he got a job as a bank examiner, joined Merrill Lynch two years later and became its leading salesperson in San Jose, CA. In 1972, he formed his own company to test his MSU-inspired ideas. Today Jim appears weekly as the "Fed Watcher" on Los Angeles TV, comments regularly on Financial News Network, and lunches with people like Bank of America head Dick Rosenberg. Music remains Jim's avocation. For years, he bankrolled and played on a jazz band he named "Full Faith And Credit," a reference to the federal guarantee of T-Bills. Recently he formed a new band for his three children, all musicians. The name, "Moral Obligation," clearly reflects a heartfelt double entendre on both parental and governmental bonds.