Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bob Pruyne

I first met Bob Pruyne when I was interviewing for a job in the fall of 1981. I was about to graduate with an MBA from Indiana University, and had aspirations of becoming an equity analyst.

Investment management in those days was a relatively small field. The bear market of the first part of the 1970's had decimated the mutual fund industry, and most individuals were not interested in investing in the stock or bond markets.

This was about to change, of course. The introduction of IRA's and 401(k) plans in 1982 forced employees to start saving for their retirement. Later, as the stock market embarked on the great bull run from 1982-1999, individuals became avid followers of the markets, and mutual fund managers were treated like rock stars.

But none of this was clear in 1981.

In order to pursue my ambitions, I had sent out letters to most of the major investment companies I could find. I interviewed with several of them, but only a few showed any interest in a 24 year-old Midwesterner with no prior investment experience.

Then I got a letter from Scudder, Stevens & Clark.

Scudder was the largest private investment management company in the United States in the early 1980's. Most of the giants of the investment world had worked there at some point in their careers. The firm had been a pioneer in many areas of the investment field, including the concept of international investing. Started in 1919, Scudder was a partnership managing $12 billion.

I first interviewed with Scudder in their Chicago office, but they had no available positions. There was, however, a possible opening in the bond department in Scudder's Boston office; would I be interested?

Well, I said, I really wanted to focus on stocks, but, sure, why not: I had never even visited Boston, so it might be fun.

Which is how I wound up in Bob Pruyne's office in October 1981.

Little did I know how lucky I had just gotten. Bob Pruyne was a bond man, one of the best fixed income specialists in the field. Due in no small part to his wisdom and leadership, Scudder managed funds for a blue chip list of clients, including names like Exxon; the Ford Foundation; Harvard University; and Wesleyan University, to name just a few.

But when I sat down in Bob's office, I thought: Why would I want to start a career being a bond research analyst? Bond management to me was a fairly obscure area, with such arcane terms as "duration", "convexity", and a bewildering number of yield calculations.

I was about to get an education that would literally change my life.

For what started as an interview turned into one of the most interesting and enjoyable meetings of my professional career. With patience and good humor, Bob turned the obscure world of bonds into a fascinating world of analysis and judgements. He showed me how through hard work and diligence Scudder was able to create value in the bond world for their clients.

As to my interest in equities, Bob pointed out that an equity analyst typically only focuses on one small segment of the investment universe. On the other hand, Bob noted, bond people could utilize insights from a variety of different fields in their world.

"Seventy percentage of what is on the front page of the paper everyday is important to me", said Bob. "I am constantly learning, and each day brings new challenges and opportunities."

Hearing this from one of the senior partners of the largest investment management companies in the world impressed me. No one, it seemed, had all of the answers, not even the top managers.

Shortly thereafter Scudder offered me a job, and I moved to Boston to become a"Bond Man".

I had the pleasure of working with Bob for the next 17 years in various capacities. He turned into a mentor and friend, helping me both professionally and personally. He always retained the passion for the bond world, and the constantly changing capital markets.

Outside of Scudder, Bob was a devoted family man. He adored his family, and often seemed more proud of their accomplishments than of his own. He was an avid tennis player. Most winter weekends found him up north, in ski country, where he and his family loved to spend the cold New England winters. He was also deeply involved in his church, and was engaged in helping those less fortunate than him.

Unfortunately, his last years were not happy ones. He and his wife Carolyn lost their daughter Laura to cancer. Then, in a cruel blow, Bob came down with a rare muscle ailment, gradually causing his muscles to atrophy. He spent his last years in a wheelchair, struggling with daily life.

Bob died last week at the age of 76. Death was probably a relief for someone who had suffered so greatly in his last years, yet we are all the poorer for his loss. A memorial service is going to be held next weekend, and I suspect it will be a crowded one, for Bob touched so many lives.

I have been thinking today about how different my life might have been if I had not had the chance to talk to Bob Pruyne so many years ago. I am grateful to Bob for taking the chance on hiring me, and hope that I will show the same interest in younger students interested in entering investment management.

I will also remember the passion and interest that he brought to his work, and hope that I like Bob will keep that spirit in mind each day in my daily work.