Whitman, the eminence grise of value investors, is the founder of money management firm Third Avenue Management.
A self-described late bloomer, Bronx-born Whitman arrived on Wall Street in his late 20s, having battled the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. After working for a string of firms, he set up his own business, M.J. Whitman & Co., in 1974. One of his first coups was a $100,000 investment in mortgage bonds issued by then-bankrupt Penn Central Railroad in the early 1970s—he quintupled his money within a year. He's continued to grow his firm—he created the first of the Third Avenue mutual funds in the 1980s—and today Third Avenue manages four pools of money and has more than $27 billion under management.
Even in an industry known for long hours and obsessive work ethics, Whitman may be Wall Street's version of the Energizer bunny. Now in his 80s, he still has a hand in many of the investments made by the firm (showing up at the office in his trademark work attire of sweatpants and a sweatshirt) and he's still in charge of the flagship Third Avenue Value Fund. Although he no longer oversees Third Avenue on a day-to-day basis—the firm's chief executive is David Barse—what hasn't changed is Whitman's investment philosophy. A legendary value investor, Third Avenue continues to focus on distressed properties. "Sometimes the best place to find value is companies teetering on the edge of disaster, when there's not much more downside but a lot of value on the balance sheet," Whitman once said.
Whitman has given generously to his alma mater, Syracuse. In 2003, the university's business school was renamed in his honor following donations in excess of $20 million.
Marty's wife, Lois, is a lawyer and the director of the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch. They live on Central Park West in the same building as Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. Whitman and his wife also have an apartment in Paris.
His reputation on for honesty and financial discipline has won him many a fan over the years. When Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau was once asked who should be named the next chair of the SEC, he replied immediately: "Someone like Marty Whitman."