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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Morris Mark

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-07-07

Morris Mark can see beyond the horizon.

"I've found that a common denominator of successful people is a vision of what's going to happen," the president of Mark Asset Management, and one of the city's best known financiers, said.

He's too modest to claim any special success, of course. But Mr. Mark said that he's always possessed a willingness to take risks - risk-taking based not only on perceptions of value but also future changes in value.

Translation: Morris Mark, born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, knows how to make money.

Since it was founded by him 21 years ago, his company has achieved a net annual compound rate of return of 15% for investors. Once he senses the emerging profitability of specific companies, Mr. Mark believes in holding on to securities for the long run.

"I have a longer term orientation. We hold positions for years," Mr. Mark said.

Thus, he saw the potential of Microsoft back in 1987. He held on to its stock until 2000. He held on to Coca-Cola for eight years. Earlier, he'd sensed the potential of home building companies, and of companies in the broadcasting and cellular phone businesses.

"We use fundamental research to build value for our clients and ourselves," Mr. Mark said, echoing comments he made seven years ago in Hedge Fund News. "We ask ourselves how the world looks, what its structure and direction is on a longer term basis and, in that context, what attractive equity investments can we make."

He paused, and then said:

"I suppose one way of putting it is that we get paid for reading the newspapers. I always ask, 'What the world going to be?'"

That question is posed not only out of professional necessity but also overwhelming curiosity.

"I was always very intellectually curious," Mr. Mark said.

As the only child of a Brooklyn grocery store owner, Max Mark, and his wife Frieda, he was fascinated with the world of commerce at an early age. His father exhorted him to work after school, and so the young Morris not only assisted in the family's grocery store but also at a local florist's shop, and a toy store.

"My parents wanted me to have the opportunity of studying the world," Mr. Mark said. "They firmly believed that one should do whatever one liked best."

Although his parents had privately hoped that their son would become a physician, Mr. Mark went to Harvard Law School after his graduation from Brooklyn College with honors in economics.

"Harvard was totally engaging. It wasn't so much interested in the law as in getting a high quality education," Mr. Mark said.

But what would he do after law school?

"I considered a career in politics. I liked people, but I found myself increasingly interested in the implications of economics," Mr. Mark said.

He practiced law for a few years before entering the securities business in 1968 as a securities analyst with First Manhattan Company. Mr. Mark then joined the research department of Goldman Sachs in 1974, where for nearly a decade he was a senior executive specializing in real estate and financial services. He was also with the firm's risk arbitrage department.

"I enjoyed the intellectual exercise of trying to figure out what something was worth," Mr. Mark said. "I enjoyed applying the analytical discipline of law school to the business world.

His success was such that Mr. Mark was voted on more than 10 occasions into the annual institutional investors All Star Team in the real estate investment trust and building categories.

His work caught the eye of Lawrence Tisch. The veteran New York financier encouraged Mr. Mark, who retains sturdy association with the Tisch family.

"Larry Tisch's confidence in me was very important," Mr. Mark said.

That confidence had been invested in Mr. Mark in part on account of his analytical clarity, and also his people skills. Mr. Mark had a way of corralling clients with his low key manner, one that was nevertheless limned with enormous self confidence.

"I found that I had certain abilities that enabled me to focus on seeking long-term gains through a fundamental research based approach to stock investments in a wide range of businesses," Mr. Mark said.

In 1985 he started Mark Partners and Mark Asset Management. The firm runs a domestic partnership, an offshore fund started in 1989 and separate accounts with total capital under management in excess of $2 billion.

So what does he now see beyond the horizon?

"What impresses me is that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, more and more of the world wants to go to Disney World," Mr. Mark said. "When even Russia and China are emphasizing the free enterprise system, you know that the positive values and ideals America stands for do matter globally.

"And that tells me that there's a great opportunity in the years ahead for those who can dedicate themselves to finance and investment. I see more open trade - and I see the major powers compete economically, not politically as they used to. If we can deal with the ongoing security problem globally, the economic potential for free markets is enormous," he said.

Mr. Mark frequently espouses his views on markets on radio and television. In addition to his prominence in the financial world, he's also a stalwart of the charity circuit.

But, Mr. Mark said, the influence of his early years in Brooklyn - his closeness to his parents - has meant that he's never far from his wife Susan, and children Matthew and Tara. Matthew and his wife Cindy have two daughters, Alexa and Amanda.

"Professional success is great to have - but one's family is most important," Mr. Mark said. "In my scheme of things, here's how I see myself - husband, father, and then a business person. Within that context, I'm a very involved person."

Animating that involvement is passion, Mr. Mark said.

"If you have passion, then two things happen - your chances of accomplishment will be greater. And one way or another, you will enjoy yourself more," Mr. Mark said.

So, the reporter asked again, what did he see beyond the horizon?

"More passion for what I do, and for the people I love," Mr. Mark said.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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