You want to invest in several different types of funds but can't figure out which ones. After all, there are only 10,000 or 12,000 or 13,000 funds available now, depending on how you count them and which day of the week it is.

But you don't want to own or follow half a dozen different funds and pay all those fees. And you don't really get the "fund of funds" concept. Oh, yes, you also want the best portfolio managers you can get.

Now there are "manager of managers" funds. You can buy what is essentially a fund of funds within a single fund company, with several managers with differing styles and mandates--ranging from small-cap value to global or large-cap growth--managing money their way. All in one package, with one fee.

Several companies now offer that kind of fund, using top managers--often the same ones--to run their money. For example, the New England Star Advisers International Fund and the Master Select International Fund have Janus Fund international fund managers Helen Young Hayes and Lawrence Chang managing their overseas investments. Similarly, both funds also have Robert Sanborn of the Oakmark Fund and David Herro of Oakmark International managing money. That isn't too surprising for the Star funds, because their parent company, Boston-based NVest Cos., also owns Harris Associates, which owns Oakmark.

Spiros Segalas, of Harbor Capital Appreciation Fund, also manages money for Master Select and SunAmerica's Style Select. Tom Marisco manages for Style Select as well as his own funds, as does Martin Whitman of Third Avenue Funds, to name just a few.

Ken Gregory, chief investment officer of Orinda, Calif.-based Masters Select, and Bruce Speca, president of New England Funds in Boston, consider their multi-manager funds core holdings for investors. "Someone with less than $50,000 may not want to buy several different funds, so they can buy one fund," Speca said.

"These funds are aimed at less-savvy investors," said Reuben Greg Brewer, manager of Value Line Mutual Funds in New York. "They don't have to own 70 funds and can still feel they can have diversification, but that diminishes results."

Of course, you have to understand how those funds work. Sometimes one style, say small-cap, is lagging while large-company growth is roaring ahead. That can create a drag on the overall performance of the fund, especially if each manager is investing the same percentage of the fund, as is often the case.

That is a given, Gregory said. "Last year, Sig Segalas put up great numbers and our small-cap did well relative to its benchmark, but that benchmark was negative. So it pulled down the numbers," he said.

Yet the funds have performed well this year. It often depends on what benchmarks one uses.

Gregory, for example, doesn't like comparing his fund with the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index because of its small-company and international components. He prefers a more complex index that is partially S&P 500, part Russell 2000, part Morgan Stanley's international EAFE (Europe Australasia Far East) equity index. That's easy for him to follow but harder for investors.

Managers acting as sub-advisers for other companies are common. Many of the mutual funds in variable annuities are managed by sub-advisers, for example.

In short, there are many top managers out there running money outside their own funds, but sometimes they do it differently from the way they do it in their own funds. Sanborn, for example, can have a couple hundred companies in his Oakmark Fund, and he will run what is virtually a clone (considering the assets are unequal) in the Star Advisers Fund.

But when he invests for the Masters Select Fund, a concentrated fund by design, he gives it only his 10 or 15 best ideas. "In a perfect world, I would only own 10 stocks," Sanborn said, happy with the idea. Herro said the same: "Intellectually, it appeals to me more to give them just 10 to 15 stocks." Star Advisers Worldwide, he said, basically wants him to replicate his Oakmark International Fund.

The Star Advisers Fund, like the Masters Select Fund, is a multi-cap fund, which has managers using different disciplines, from small-cap value to large-cap growth, in the same fund. And they compete with one another, which is fine with Mary Champagne, co-manager of Loomis, Sayles & Co.'s small-company value fund.

"They encourage competition between managers," Champagne said, adding that she liked the competition better when small-company stocks were doing well. "It is tougher now when small-company value isn't doing well and large-company growth is."

Gregory said the managers were pretty competitive people but added: "We subtly foster competition."