A trio of industry heavyweights have heightened the buzz that distribution is eclipsing money management as the key to mutual fund success.

Before a packed crowd at the Investment Company Institute's general membership meeting in Washington last week, Charles R. Schwab, founder of Charles Schwab & Co.; Edward C. Johnson 3rd, chief executive of FMR Corp., parent of Fidelity Investments; and John L. Steffens, executive vice president for Merrill Lynch & Co., discussed their companies' strategies.

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