John Buckingham describes the path he took to become the manager of the Al Frank Fund as starting with serendipity. A Minnesota native, Buckingham first went to California to attend the University of Southern California. After his freshman year at USC, he realized that southern California was the place for him. "No snow or cold winter temperatures and in the summer no humidity or mosquitoes," he recalls. "What's not to like?"
Early in his senior year, he answered an ad for a job as a stockbroker's assistant, which entailed making cold calls for Drexel Burnham. After a couple of days, Buckingham realized that wasn't the line of work for him. He had, however, impressed his boss with his computer skills because he knew how to plot a pie chart using Lotus 1-2-3, quite an impressive skill in 1987. His boss offered to call a friend who worked for a money manager and newsletter writer who could use a "computer expert," which is how Birmingham wound up getting an interview with Al Frank. "I had been making, like, three bucks an hour," Buckingham recalls. "I'm sitting there with this great guru, wondering if this is an internship or if he's actually going to pay me, and he says, 'We can only pay you $8 an hour.' I about fell off my chair. The rest, as they say, is history."
In order to automate the stock analysis, portfolio management, and other aspects of the operation, Buckingham first had to understand those functions. When the crash of 1987 came along and Frank had to let employees go, Buckingham was not among the casualties. "I was the lowest paid and knew the most, plus he liked me. So I was the guy who stuck around. As other people were let go, all of sudden I had to be the portfolio manager, I had to do the research."
In 1990, Frank decided to relocate to New Mexico and work from his home, which left Buckingham in charge of the California office. Today he runs the 12-person firm from an office in Laguna Beach, California, and manages $500 million.--Robert F. Keane