Thursday, October 27, 2011

Richard Rosenbloom

One of my favorite clients died earlier this week.

Although Boston Private Bank prides itself on confidentiality, I think I can make an exception in this case, because Dick Rosenbloom was more than a client to me.

I first met Dick in the spring of 2000. He was still teaching at the Harvard Business School, where he was the David Saranoff Professor of Technology. In the summer, Dick and his wife Ruth would head out to the Bay Area, where he was consulting at Hewlett Packard. He was also on the board of Arrow Electronics.

Although I was managing an equity portfolio for Dick, I often felt like I was learning more from him than vice versa. His insights on the world in general, and technology in particular, were incredibly interesting and helpful.

Dick made a terrific market call in August 2000. He had just finished reading Robert Shiller's book Irrational Exuberance, which described the incredible overvaluation of the stock market at that time. Although I was on vacation, Dick called me and told me to sell nearly all of the stocks in his portfolio.

The S&P 500 then started the swoon from which it has yet to recover; the market is off nearly -20% from the time Dick told me to sell.

Dick took the proceeds from his stock sales and moved them into bonds, where he also did very well. Here again his instincts were uncanny: In the midst of the credit crunch in the fall of 2008, for example, he pushed us to invest in bonds issued by banks and brokers, correctly surmising that the government would never let our largest financial institutions fail.

But there was more to Dick than investing - much more. He was totally devoted to his family. He loved talking about his three children, and their activities were always a source of interest. When his wife Ruth became ill, he became a full-time caregiver, and never complained about the burden. Her death left a void in Dick's life, but he continued to live life as best as he could even after the loss of his best friend.

I always enjoyed meeting with Dick to catch up on the markets as well as family. To be sure, Dick could be very challenging, as all good teachers can be to students.

For example, Dick disliked the idea that institutional investors had diversified portfolios, and pushed me to put only my very best ideas into his accounts, regardless of whether it increased volatility. Thanks to his prodding, I must confess that my equity performance numbers in Dick's portfolios were among the best in my client book.

Dick moved to New York City in his last years, and loved the energy and vitality of the City. While I had not seen him as much as I would have liked after he moved, we talked occasionally on the phone, and our conversations were always pleasurable.

Dick will be missed not only by me, but several other members of the Boston Private Bank community who knew him well.