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New Fund Puts All Women at the Helm

The Kit Cole Strategic Growth Fund, introduced Nov. 7, is one of a few mutual funds sponsored by a woman-owned investment management firm and managed by a woman.

The fund may be the first mutual fund with an all-female board of directors. There are four members of the board, two affiliated trustees, and two independent trustees.

The mutual fund was launched by Kit Cole Investment Advisory Services, a registered investment advisory and management firm in San Rafael, Calif. The 24-year-old firm has both male and female clients.

But the firm's founder and CEO, Kit Cole, 59, is known for her initiatives to educate women about investing and empower them to oversee the management of their assets.

Cole, who is the fund's sole portfolio manager, co-founded and was the chairperson of the New Horizons Savings & Loan of San Rafael that opened in 1980.

"By design, we chose to have all women in the governance of our mutual fund," said Cole. "There's a gender point of view we want to have."

While women have more purchasing power than men in this country and are the major force behind the expansion of the mutual fund industry, they are still underrepresented on fund boards, she said.

"There are no mutual funds where policies are being established by women," said Cole.

According to 1998 demographic information released in September 1999 by the Investment Company Institute, women are the primary decision makers in 22 percent of the estimated 48.4 million households that own mutual funds and are actively involved in the joint decision-making process in another 54 percent of those homes.

Yet women are still not adequately represented on fund boards, said Cole. Women account for only nine percent of fund trustees, and the majority of these are affiliated directors who work for the fund's investment management company as employee, according to a year-old study on the composition of mutual fund boards of directors compiled by Management Practice of New York City. Management Practice is a consulting firm that often advises fund's boards of trustees.

The board of directors of the Kit Cole Strategic Growth Fund includes Cole, who is chairperson, along with Jamison Tappan who is the fund's chief financial officer as well as the advisory firm's chief operating officer. Tappan is also Cole's daughter.

The two independent fund trustees include two San Francisco Bay Area businesswomen who lend their own business acumen to the fund governance process, said Cole. According to the fund's statement of additional information, trustee Lilly Stamets is the retail operations manager for The Academy Store, the retail store of the California Academy of Sciences Museum. Stamets also serves as a consultant to retailers.

Rounding out the four-member board is independent trustee Deborah Magowan who has been the chairperson for the San Francisco Fall Antique Show since 1996. Magowan, a financial analyst, is the wife of Peter McGowan who, for 18 years, was the chairman and CEO of Safeway, the supermarket chain based in Pleasanton, Calif. The McGowans are now the co-general partners of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, said Cole.

Men are not prohibited from ever becoming fund board members, said Cole. Neither she nor her company has any prejudice against men, she said. Cole's son Jeff Tappan, who serves as the fund's CEO but is not a fund board member, is a fixed-income manager for the advisory firm.

"We are creating the model for the industry," said Cole.