James E. Stowers Jr., who built a billion-dollar fortune as founder of the American Century Investments mutual fund company, then gave most of it away for medical research, has died. He was 90.
He died on March 17 at his home in Kansas City, Missouri, following a period of declining health, the company said in a statement.
American Century, which manages about $141 billion in assets, dedicates 40 percent of its profits to support research into genetic-based diseases including cancer, diabetes and dementia. The majority shareholder of the Kansas City-based company is the nonprofit Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which Stowers created with his wife, Virginia, after both were diagnosed with cancer.
Once among the richest Americans, he fell out of the Forbes 400 ranking in 2001 after donating $1.2 billion to endow the medical institute. Forbes reported in 2012 that Stowers had donated a total of $2 billion, or 20 times his then-net worth of $100 million.
“For Jim, creating new knowledge was the most powerful contribution he could offer mankind,” Richard W. Brown, chairman of American Century and the Stowers Institute, said in the company statement. “Throughout his whole life, whether as businessman or philanthropist, he thought about making things better for other people.”
Stowers founded the firm, originally known as Twentieth Century Mutual Funds, in 1958 in a one-bedroom apartment, according to the company. Its name became American Century in 1997 after a merger with Benham Group.
It was named “Best Large Mutual Fund Company” at the 2009 Lipper Fund Awards.
American Century was a sponsor of bicyclist Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong charitable foundation, even adopting the name Livestrong for a portfolio of funds. It dropped the name in 2013 after Armstrong acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs.
The company said Stowers once wrote, “From the start of our company, we had a dream. That dream was to try to offer people only the best products and services -- second to none.”
James Evans Stowers Jr. was born on Jan. 10, 1924, in Kansas City, the son of James Stowers, a surgeon, and the former Laura Smith.
With plans to follow his father and grandfather into medicine, Stowers began pre-medical studies at the University of Missouri in 1942, then left school to join the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. At the end of World War II, he completed his undergraduate degree and earned a two-year medical degree at the University of Missouri, before turning his interests to business.
He sold mutual funds for a Kansas City-based firm, Waddell & Reed, before striking out on his own in 1956, forming J.E. Stowers & Co. He was selling term life insurance out of his home when he started Twentieth Century with $100,000 from 24 investors.
He took over fund management in the 1970s, writing his own computer program to track promising stocks, according to the company.
Money magazine included two of the company’s funds -- Twentieth Century Growth and Twentieth Century Select -- in a 1987 list of the best mutual funds. The article said those two funds were distinctive because they were run by managers “who rely heavily on computer programs that screen for stocks with accelerating earnings.”
He was diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer in 1986. His wife, the former Virginia Glascock, underwent surgery for breast cancer in 1993. They created a foundation in 1988 to support biological research, and the 600,000-square-foot Stowers Institute opened in 2000.
In addition to his wife, survivors include three children, Kathleen Stowers-Potter, James Stowers III -- who was chairman of American Century until 2007 -- and Linda Stowers; and a brother, Richard W. Stowers Sr. Another daughter, Pamela, died in 2010.