SPARTANBURG, S.C. - In 2008, R. Michael James ’73 gifted Wofford College $100,000 to create what is now the James-Atkins Student-Managed Investment Fund in honor of his friend and classmate Edward B. Wile ’73.
The fund gives students real-life investment experience by managing an investment portfolio. It is open to all Wofford students.
At a May event to celebrate the fund’s 10th anniversary, James told the group of current and alumni participants, “I hope the students in the James Fund take the skills they have learned in accounting, investments and finance and use them for the greater good.” To the current students, he added, “Hopefully, the skill set you’ve learned will equip you for job interviews and your careers.”
The 134 participants through the years who have been a part of the James-Atkins Fund already have used it “for the greater good,” with the proceeds from their investments funding micro-credit initiatives in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and many say what they learned set them on their life’s path.
Many students and alumni gathered for the recent celebration to honor and recognize James and Robert D. (Robby) Atkins ’65, who in 2016 provided another $100,000 to the fund.
“As a life lesson, this was my first opportunity to have skin in the game,” says Blake Clyborne ’09 of Greenville, S.C., who with Austin Fitch ’09 of Charlotte, N.C., was one of the first managing partners of the fund. “We were not playing with Monopoly money. This was real cash. This experience kick-started us into our own careers. We wondered whether it would even be alive two or three years down the road, but we’ve watched its success, and it’s really cool to see what’s happened over the years.” The micro-credit initiative has provided 180 retail loans and 460 agricultural loans in Haiti and 60 retail loans in the Dominican Republic. “These loans have a repayment rate of more than 99 percent,” says Dr. Philip G. Swicegood, the R. Michael James Professor and chair of the Department of Accounting, Business and Finance and coordinator of the James-Atkins Fund. Also, he says, return on the student-managed investment portfolio was 10.8 percent this year. “We had a good year this year,” he adds. “Plus, we’ve averaged a return of more than 10 percent each year, and we have outperformed our benchmarks seven of the 10 years.”
Participating in the James-Atkins Fund has helped Jack McDonald ’18 prepare for the future. “This has given me the opportunity to learn from great leadership. I am prepared more than ever for the real world, for making my path,” says the finance major with an accounting and economics minor from Rochester, N.Y. “I’m a part of something more, and being part of the James Fund network has given me lots of lifelong friends.” McDonald has secured a position in New York City with Capco, a management and technology consulting firm focused on financial services.
James says he created the fund to honor Wile’s leadership on the college’s Investment Advisory Committee and their deep friendship. “Ed Wile is a testament to the power of a Wofford education, what a transformational experience Wofford can be,” James says. Wile, a Wofford trustee, has written about his troubled youth, his time at Wofford as a star athlete and how he turned his life around in his recently published book “Mean to Meaningful.”
James says his high school chemistry teacher, the late Thomas G. Slaughter ’49 is why he cane to Wofford as a student. “Tom Slaughter lit up a classroom, and he encouraged me to go to Wofford.
“You never know in life’s journey the lives you touch,” he adds.
Looking around the room at the James-Atkins Fund celebration, James was looking at just a fraction of the lives he has touched.