Founder, The 401(k) Association, Jersey Shore, Pa.
Ted Benna didn't set out to revolutionize the world of retirement saving — he was just doing his job as a benefits consultant. Still, he wound up being credited with creating the first 401(k) plan.
As an employee benefits consultant with The Johnson Cos., a small consulting firm in Philadelphia, Mr. Benna was redesigning the retirement program for one of the firm's banking clients.
That's when it came to him: He could use section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code to do something special. As a result, Mr. Benna will forever be known as "the father of the 401(k) plan."
That was in 1980. The bank rejected the idea, but his employer decided to take a chance. Mr. Benna convinced Johnson Cos. management to run a pilot plan for their own employees, and on Jan. 1, 1981, Benna offered his coworkers the first 401(k) retirement plan.
"My approach was that if the code doesn't say thou shalt not, then thou should be able to," he said in a recent interview.
In 1981 the IRS provisionally approved the plan, and a year later it gave a clear go-ahead. The final official regulations were issued in 1991. Since then, the 401(k) market has grown to about $2 trillion in assets.
"I have been greatly blessed by having played a role in helping to create a plan that has enabled millions of average Americans to save for retirement," he said.
Mr. Benna contends that others were equally familiar with the IRS regulations he used. "Sometimes I'm known as the father, other times the grandfather or the godfather of the 401(k)," he said with tongue in cheek.
Mr. Benna remains active in the retirement industry as a speaker and author and heads his own consulting firm, The 401(k) Association, which he founded in 1993.
"He has personified the 401(k) plan and made the 401(k) plan more personal. He gave it a name and … a human face," said Fred Barstein, president of 401(k) Exchange, a research and data base service in West Palm Beach, Fla.