A decade ago, Taymour Tamaddon was an MBA. student with a background in physics trying to convince Baltimore-based money manager T. Rowe Price to hire him as an intern.
Not only did Price give him the internship and hire him later as a health care analyst, but six months ago the company chose Tamaddon to head up the Health Sciences Fund, one of the firm's top-performing funds with $7.4 billion in assets.
"It's overwhelming, as you can imagine. Exciting, challenging," he said. "I love learning. For me, that's probably been the most rewarding aspect."
The 37-year-old's rise to portfolio manager came when the previous manager, Kris Jenner, abruptly left in February to launch a hedge fund in Baltimore, taking with him two of the fund's analysts.
Price doesn't have star managers whose names are as familiar to investors as the funds themselves. But if it did, Jenner definitely would have been one. A doctor who walked away from 13 years of medical training to become a money manager, Jenner was skilled at uncovering small health care companies that could produce big payoffs for patient investors.
Tamaddon said he wasn't surprised by Jenner's departure and declined an opportunity to join him. Analyzing his long-term career options and the work he could do down the road at Price, he said he decided to stay with the firm.
Tamaddon's first priority was to manage the fund to make sure its performance stayed on track, he said. He stepped up communication with fund shareholders, visiting the largest clients to tell them the fund's strategy wouldn't change and explain his plans to build his team.
With the departure of Jenner and the two analysts, the fund lost half of its U.S. analyst team. Tamaddon has since added three full-time analysts and one part-time.
The Health Sciences Fund continues to outperform its peers. As of the end of last week, the fund's total return — including reinvested dividends — was 37.97 percent year to date, compared with an average of 35.46 percent for about 30 actively managed health care funds, Morningstar reported.
The fund maintains a top 5-star rating from Morningstar for its long-term past performance. But Morningstar analysts' lowered the fund's rating from gold — the highest — to neutral after Jenner left due to uncertainty about how the fund will perform under a new manager, said Flynn Murphy, a Morningstar fund analyst.
"Thus far, investors are still putting money into the fund at a greater pace than in years past," Murphy said.
For the 12 months ended in July, $929 million flowed into the fund, up from $600 million the year before, according to Morningstar.
"He's doing about as fine as Mr. Jenner was," said David Snowball, publisher of the Mutual Fund Observer.
Snowball gives part of the credit for investors sticking with the fund to Price, which he said spends more time than many other large investment firms in communicating with shareholders.
"It means they have a better-informed shareholders who are less likely to bolt," Snowball said.
Tamaddon said he shares more similarities than differences with his predecessor: "The boring part — the strategy of the fund is not going to change."
Morningstar's Murphy said, "Kris Jenner used a very patient, low-turnover approach."
Under Jenner, the fund invested in small health care companies with one drug or product coming to market and waited for them to pay off, Murphy said.
"It tended to be a little more volatile than other health sciences funds," Murphy said. "It would lose more in downturns and … gain more during upturns."
Tamaddon made some portfolio adjustments, he said, such as switching Gilead Sciences from a major position to the fund's top stock. He's said he's convinced Gilead will transform the treatment for hepatitis C.
"In three years, we will have cured many more people with hepatitis C than the market anticipated," he predicted.
A Virginia native whose parents both worked for the U.S. Army, Tamaddon majored in applied physics at Cornell University.
"I love numbers," Tamaddon said.
And that love of math and analyzing things drew him to the business world. He became a consultant after graduating in 1998, then spent two years in finance at Amazon.com before going to graduate school at Dartmouth College. It was there in 2002 that he encountered Bill Stromberg, head of global equity at Price, who was recruiting on the campus.
"I actually had never heard of T. Rowe Price. I really had not heard of stock. I didn't know this job existed," said Tamaddon, who initially didn't make the interview list with Price. "I literally dedicated the next three months of my life to getting a job at T. Rowe Price."
For example, he sent Price detailed 20- to 30-page analyses on stock picks. He offered to take executives in Price's research department out to lunch when he was in the area visiting his parents, although none took him up on the invitation.
Persistence paid off. He was hired as an intern in 2003, and after receiving his MBA in 2004, he joined Price as a health care analyst.
"Taymour stood out from the moment I met him — exceptionally bright, tenacious and full of positive energy. All of our reference checks confirmed that he was truly a special person," Stromberg wrote in an email. "During his internship, we saw that he was also incredibly hardworking, curious and a natural team-player."
Tamaddon covered stocks that made up 13 percent of the Health Sciences' portfolio. He said he covered a wider range of industries than other analysts, from specialty pharmaceuticals and medical technology to diagnostics, life sciences tools and health care services.
"The good news was in terms of preparing me to look at the broad health care universe, it was very diverse," he said. "In a sense it ended up being a blessing, but it made the first nine years a little more difficult."