From medicine to mutuals

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dr. Kris H. Jenner was so exhausted that squeezing his 6-foot-5-inch frame onto a small bed in a converted closet didn't even bother him. Sleep came fast and deep.

Suddenly, he sprang up. After agonizing for months, finally, in February 1997, he had made up his mind: Jenner would trade in his scrubs and stethoscope for a pin-stripped suit and Hewlett-Packard 12C calculator.

He was going to become a money manager.

The decision stunned friends and colleagues alike. After all, it meant sacrificing 13 years of medical and scientific training at some of the most prestigious universities - Oxford University in England, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School - and abandoning a promising career as a general surgeon.

"This was completely about me getting up in the morning and having a bounce in my step," said Jenner, 38. "I realized over time, I had tremendous passion for this."

Jenner now runs the T. Rowe Price Health Sciences Fund, which he took over in January, after a stint as a biotechnology and pharmaceutical analyst at the firm. He is already demonstrating a deft touch as a stock picker.

He urged fund managers to buy Genentech Inc. last year at $45 a share. They did, and its shares have more than doubled to about $107.

He picked up Waters Corp. for his fund when it traded at $55 a share. It has since shot up to about $94. And he snared MedImmune Inc. at around $50, which has since more than tripled to about $155.

But the fund, which has $487 million in assets under management, still has a ways to go before it becomes a top performer. After returning 22.4 percent in 1998, it slipped last year with an 8 percent return. It is up 6.65 percent in the first five months of the year after many high-flying biotechnology stocks plunged.

Jenner "is ... kind of new," said Valerie Putchaven, an analyst at Morningstar Inc., a Chicago-based mutual fund tracking firm. "But he seems like he knows what is going on in the industry."

Senior executives at T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., the Baltimore-based mutual fund company, are impressed with what they have seen so far.

"What has surprised me is the speed at which he has grown as an investor," said John H. Laporte, manager of the T. Rowe Price New Horizons Fund, and a company director. "He has accomplished more analytically and moved into a portfolio manager role faster than almost anybody I know. It is very impressive."

But not everyone was impressed by Jenner's decision to leave medicine. Some people became crazy; others just thought he had gone crazy.

Shortly after he made his decision to quit medicine, Jenner flew to Baltimore from Boston to break the news to Dr. Keith Lillemoe, professor and vice chairman of the department of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Lillemoe helped recruit Jenner to Johns Hopkins, and had high hopes for the young man.

"I had no idea why he was coming in," Lillemoe recalled. "He just walked in the door and told me. It wasn't something he wanted to do over the phone."

"I reacted like anybody," Lillemoe added. "I got mad, and then I tried to persuade him and then I tried to challenge him, and then I said, 'Do what you have got to do.' It was hard on both of us. In a way, he felt that he was letting me down."

Lillemoe always believed Jenner would have been an "outstanding" surgeon. "I think he would have been a leader. I think he would have been a great role model. It was a big loss to surgery," he said.

Jenner's decision was all the more perplexing because everyone knew he had dreamed for years of becoming a doctor.

It began when he was 6 years old and growing up in Belleville, Ill., a town of about 40,000 outside St. Louis, that's when Jenner contracted bacterial meningitis.

He was taken by how Dr. Polly Teagle, a local family physician, cared and comforted him. And there was something about the power to heal. Dr. Teagle made a lasting impression on the boy.

"I wanted to be involved in helping people at the most critical time of their life," Jenner said.

In high school, Jenner excelled in sports and he contemplated becoming a professional athlete. It was no idle fantasy. Jenner was a star.

During his senior year in high school, Jenner was offered a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Kentucky. But after looking at the intense schedule with so many games on the road, he had second thoughts because the sport would cut into his study time.

Instead, he accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Illinois. But he suffered a knee injury his freshman year.

"It changed my entire focus," Jenner said. "My attention really became focused on my class work. I really lost my desire to come back and be a professional athlete. It just seemed to me that I was more excited about my school work."

Although he continued to play football, Jenner majored in chemistry and hit the books like a lineman blasting a tackling dummy. He dreamed of getting into the best medical school in the country, and he aced one course after another.

School work thrilled him, and he shared his excitement with his parents. One day during his freshman year, he called his mother, Elizabeth, to explain what happens to food in a pressure cooker.

"He went through the entire molecular breakdown of the food," Elizabeth Jenner recalled. "I think he found his class work to be most stimulating. He just caught fire."

His hard work paid off. After graduating from Illinois - almost all "A's" with only one "B" - in 1984, Jenner received a scholarship to Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in molecular biology.

In 1988, he attended Johns Hopkins Medical School to become a surgeon. Two years into his residency in 1995, Jenner stepped off the medical training "treadmill" to do research.

He and his wife, Susan, a pediatric cardiologist, moved to Boston, where Jenner worked at the Laboratory of Biological Cancer, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

It was after a night on call at Southwood Community Hospital that Jenner had his awakening.

"I woke up that morning and said, 'I am going to make that change,'" he recalled.

At one level, his decision to quit medicine should not have been a shock. Even as a youngster, Jenner had shown a fascination with the stock market.

On family vacations he often would disappear. "Where's Kris? Where's Kris?" his worried parents would call out.

Usually, he was found buying Investors Business Daily or some other newspaper for the latest market news.

His interest in business didn't stop with the headlines. Before enrolling at Johns Hopkins, Jenner won an internship at J. P. Morgan in New York. And Jenner insisted that he and his father drive 350 miles from St. Louis to Tulsa, Okla., to attend Texaco's annual meeting.

Business coursed through his veins. By 1989, he and some friends started a mutual fund that they registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The fund was open to "friends and family," and they called it the Oxford Capital Group LLP. It returned 20 percent a year on average, and it grew from about $100,000 to $2 million in assets.

He and other cash-strapped doctors debated stocks while they waited for their experiments to incubate at the Laboratory of Biological Cancer in Boston.

"Every day we would talk about stocks," Jenner said. "I was the unofficial expert."

The more he thought about the market, the more he realized that his passion for medicine was fading. He confided in a friend and Johns Hopkins classmate, Dr. John Liddicoat, that he wasn't satisfied.

"He didn't feel it was his primary calling. He had an urge to pursue his interests," Liddicoat said.

Jenner's wife, Susan, and friends advised him to get back to the operating room, believing that would stoke the fires again.

Jenner moonlighted as the physician on call at Southwood Community. But no matter how much time he spent tending to patients, the stock market tugged at his heart.

"I had been going back and forth and struggling with myself," Jenner said. "I knew what I wanted to do. I was turning my back on surgery."

Jenner broke the news to his mother, who was at the couple's rented home in Boston.

"I am reconsidering what my career is going to be," he announced. "At this point, I am not sure it is going to be medicine."

Elizabeth Jenner was shocked - "flummoxed," as she put it. But her response was "mute."

"We had a lot of confidence in Kris," she said. "We always were behind him."

Privately, Elizabeth Jenner was disappointed.

"I felt truly that it was a loss," she said. "He is an outstanding diagnostician. You can give him a set of medical facts with the problem ... and he really zeros in. He is very analytical and ... comes up with the answer."

Jenner used a contact and won an interview at T. Rowe Price. At first, executives at the firm were more intrigued by his background than committed to hiring him. That didn't last long.

"He must have had eight or 10 people ask him, 'Why in the world would you want to do this?'" said David Testa, vice chairman and chief investment officer at Price. "He was very convincing."

Laporte thought Jenner was sincere about his desire to manage money.

"I think it became clear to him and it was clear to us when we interviewed him that he was passionate about investing," Laporte said. "I knew the first day that I met him that we should hire him."

In July 1997, Jenner began working at Price as a pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies analyst, and in January, he began running the Health Sciences Fund.

Jenner has not put on scrubs for about three years, but he has no regrets about his decision to leave medicine.

"I really had lost the passion to be the very best I could be in medicine," Jenner said. "It is about doing something my heart is 100 percent in. So far, it has turned out very well."

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