I’m reading a great book, What Goes Up: The Uncensored History of Modern Wall Street, by Eric J. Weiner, published in 2005. A lot of the uncensored history in Weiner’s oral history is his chronicle of the fall of the old patrician order on Wall Street and the rise of Jewish bankers and traders in the ’60s and ’70s.
A delicious anecdote involves maybe the greatest stockpicker of our time, Warren Buffett, who at 21 wanted nothing more than to work for the Wall Street firm of Graham Newman but was rejected because he was not Jewish.
The son of a Nebraska congressman, Buffett started dabbling in the stock market as a teenager. His life changed when he read The Intelligent Investor (1949) by Benjamin Graham. Buffett has called the book the best book ever written about the market. It advised studying the underlying value of companies and betting against the market’s swings. This theory has make Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway the greatest legend of modern American stockpicking.
When Buffett read that book, its author Benjamin Graham (1894-1976), a London-born Jew, was a professor at Columbia Business School and co-proprietor of Graham Newman, a small investment house on Wall Street.
Warren Buffett transferred from the University of Nebraska to Columbia Business School in order to study under Graham. But when he graduated and tried to work for Graham, the investor repeatedly put him off. For religious reasons. From Weiner’s book, of oral histories:
Tom Knapp (former analyst for Graham Newman):
Ben had a great reputation at Columbia for being a smart guy, and so when he decided to go to work on Wall Street he applied to several of the large firms. But they all turned him down. His belief was that it was because he was Jewish.
Irving Kahn (former analyst, Graham-Newman):
After he graduated [Columbia business school], Buffett came to Ben, but he wouldn’t hire him. He said he didn’t have enough experience. But Buffett kept after him. One day he said to Ben, “Mr. Graham, I’ll work for you for nothing.” He meant it, you know.
Warren did offer to work for Graham for free, that’s absolutely true. But everyone at Graham-Newman was Jewish, from the top right down to the bottom. This was because Graham remembered how hard it was for a Jewish guy to get a job when he was trying to come to Wall Street. So Warren came in and offered to work for free. But Ben wasn’t about to break his philosophy on hiring. He told Warren no. And Warren went back to Omaha.
Roger Lowenstein (Buffet biographer)
Graham didn’t want Buffett to come to Wall Street to work for him because he wanted to save the positions in his firm for Jews, who had a hard time finding work on Wall Street. So Buffett went to work for his father for a little bit, and then he came back East to work for Graham.
Rejected in New York, Buffett worked in Omaha from 1951-1954.
Ben Graham finally hired Buffett in 1954. In this 1998 speech, Buffett said that he had “pestered” Graham during those years, and Graham relented.
Ultimately, Buffett became close to Graham, and named a child after him.
The story is a classic. It shows how the glass ceiling in American professions caused great bitterness among Jewish aspirants (Alan Dershowitz built his early career on such resentment).
It shows the power of Jewish kinship networks to shut out worthy applicants. And it shows why the glass ceiling broke. Because of Jewish success, because many non-Jews lacked prejudice and had no trouble working with Jews. Buffett was such a philo-semite he put Graham’s prejudice aside, and evidently helped to heal Graham.
I have often seen this process– the recognition of talent, regardless of the package, on all sides. It is why I believe in Jewish integration, not Jewish Marcus Garveyism (Zionism).
Thanks to Bruce Wolman.