Gabelli is chairman and CEO of Gabelli Asset Management. "Super Mario" is almost as well known to the general public as to the institutional investors who make up the lion's share of his backers, thanks to his frequent guest spots as a pundit on everything from CNBC to PBS.
The son of Italian immigrants in the Bronx—his dad was a cook—as a high school student Gabelli spent his summers working as a golf caddy at Winged Foot and Sunningdale in Westchester, where he often listened in on conversations about the stock market. At Fordham, he proved himself a savvy entrepreneur: When power brownouts hit New York, he sold flashlights from the trunk of his car. He says he was first turned on to value investing as a student at Columbia Business School (his carpool buddies at the time included Leon Cooperman and Art Samberg), and after graduating he covered the auto industry at brokerage firm Loeb Rhodes, taking over for Michael Steinhardt. Gabelli went out on his own and opened a money-management firm in 1977, introducing his first mutual fund a decade later. His timing couldn't have been better. As he rode the '80s bull market, he also became a TV celebrity when the financial media was just getting off the ground—the exposure both fed his ego and helped him promote his funds, landing him thousands of eager new investors.
Although Gabelli still oversees $27 billion in assets, that figure has dwindled along with performance, and fund-rating outfit Morningstar now awards the group a miserable "D" rating. Why the slippage? Former employees have described him as a control freak who refuses to cede power over portfolios to the managers nominally in charge of them—he reportedly still serves as chief stock-picker for all of his firm's portfolios—and his high fees have turned off investors. His reputation has also been tarnished by several legal battles. In July 2006, he paid a $130 million fine to settle charges he created fake companies to bid for wireless phone licenses, and he settled a separate case to the tune of $100 million with two investors who claimed he'd deprived them of what would have been hefty profits.
Gabelli is perhaps the most highly compensated mutual fund manager in history—until he took his company public in 1991, he had taken home an astonishing 20 percent of the firm's pretax profits. (Only after underwriters balked at the arrangement did he agree to limit it to 10 percent going forward.) That kind of compensation strikes many as ironic, given Gabelli's history as a corporate governance crusader. In 2007, he took home $70.9 million, up 22 percent from the year before. He was worth $1.1 billion in 2006, according to Forbes.
Gabelli's second wife is Regina Pitaro, a managing director at his company. (It's her second marriage as well.) He has four children with his first wife, Elaine. The Gabellis lives in the exclusive Belle View enclave of Greenwich. They also own a home in Moose, Wyoming—where he goes fly-fishing—and a 500-year-old farmhouse near Reggio Emilia, Italy, which has been in his family for generations.