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Investor Janna Sampson prefers slow, steady approach

Janna Sampson

Investing can be a risky business, but portfolio manager Janna Sampson reduces uncertainty by selecting slow, steady, even “stodgy” stocks. Sampson, BA economics and political science ’79, studied industrial economics in the 1980s, learning to examine firms’ long-term economics to forecast how they might weather downturns.

Now as director of portfolio management for OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Ill., a Chicago suburb, Sampson uses her analytical skills daily to manage AmSouth Select Equity Fund investments. Worth approximately $200 million, the non-diversified fund is comprised of stock in only 20 or so of what Sampson calls “market power” companies.

“They have a large market share and a barrier from competition so they tend to have more stable earnings and returns,” Sampson says.

In March 2005, the fund’s top-10 holdings included household names such as McDonald’s, Home Depot, Walt Disney, Heinz and Kimberly-Clark. While they’re unlikely to experience the rapid rises that generate headlines and provide investors with quick gains, these stocks do something Sampson says is much more impressive.

“They preserve wealth over the long run,” she says.

Sampson monitors news stories to stay on top of trends in the industries she invests in. When McDonald’s announced in 2002 that it was changing its oil to reduce trans-fatty acids, she worried.

“We called the company every week for three months to ask where we could taste the fries,” she recalls. “French fries are their franchise, and they do them better than anyone. But what if they screwed up the taste?”

McDonald’s postponed the switch and introduced salads to their menu, a move that reassured Sampson. She doubled her fund’s investment in the fast-food franchise.

“Steady, incremental growth is better than roller coaster rides,” Sampson explains. “Over time, the power of compounding, steady returns will put you in a better position.”

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