Is Jon S. Fossel destined to become the Oprah Winfrey of the mutual fund business?

The unabashed chairman of OppenheimerFunds Inc. is resigning to join the talk-show circuit and educate the public about mutual funds.

Mr. Fossel, 54, is set to act as host of "Invest America," which he plans to market to public television stations throughout the country.

"He's a very engaging and outgoing guy," said Charles T. Bauer, chairman of competing fund company Aim Management Group, Houston.

Mr. Bauer, who worked with Mr. Fossel in the 1970s at American General Corp., said his former colleague would make a good industry teacher and marketer. "He has that kind of bug," Mr. Bauer said. "He's a first-class guy, real smart, a real entrepreneur."

Mr. Fossel's resignation from New York-based Oppenheimer came as no surprise. When he relinquished his job as chief executive to Bridget A. Macaskill a year ago, he said he wanted to devote more time to politics and public service.

"As I said when I resigned as CEO last year, I have a long-standing desire for greater involvement in the public arena," Mr. Fossel said in a statement.

Mr. Fossel took a shot at running for governor of New York in 1994.

His resignation from Oppenheimer comes at the end of his term as chairman of the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund trade organization. Don Powell, chief executive of Van Kampen American Capital, took over Friday.

Since joining Oppenheimer in 1987 as president and chief operating officer, Mr. Fossel boosted assets more than four-fold, from $8.5 billion to $38 billion.

He went to Oppenheimer after a stint as president of the distribution arm of rival Alliance Capital Management LTD., New York.

Oppenheimer also announced plans this week to acquire four mutual funds managed by Jefferson Pilot Corp., an insurance company in Greensboro, N.C. Oppenheimer now manages $55 billion in 60 portfolios.

Oppenheimer picked up a bond fund and a growth fund that are sold to retail fund investors, as well as a bond fund and a growth fund that are sold through a variable annuity product.

Jefferson oversees about $172 million in its four portfolios. After the closing, expected in December, Oppenheimer plans to merge the funds into similar ones it now manages.

Jefferson was a nominal seller of mutual funds through banks, but it does sell portfolios as part of a variable annuity through Centura Banks Inc., Rocky Mount, N.C.

"The negative is that you lose an identity as a local company," said Edward R. Hipp, president of Centura Securities Inc. "Jefferson Pilot has cachet, is visible and very respected in North Carolina."

Mr. Hipp emphasized, however, that his bank sells Oppenheimer's funds too, and that he does not expect the acquisition to disrupt his program.

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