Tag Archives: Obituaries

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Colleagues, Wall Street friends and readers remember Abelson

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Barron’s has collected a series of remembrances about Alan Abelson, its former editor and longtime columnist who died last week at the age of 87.

Here is one from Rhonda Brammer, a former Barron’s contributing editor:

The Barron’s magazine I joined in the early 1980s, back in the days of ticker tape and martini lunches, was an astonishing place—chockablock with talent: fast, graceful, savvy writers like Jim Grant, Peter Brimelow, and Kate Welling. And at the helm was the inimitable Alan Abelson, the man whose column, Up & Down Wall Street, had single-handedly transformed staid financial journalism into rare verbal art. Biting and brilliant, his columns mixed borscht-belt humor and Shakespearean allusions with zingers from Twain, Mencken, and Wilde—though Alan’s own one-liners often trumped them all.

Me? I was a kid from Idaho, then just a couple of years out of Columbia J-School. I wasn’t a very graceful writer, and I sure as heck wasn’t fast.

Still, I was summoned.

Alan had read a cover story I’d written for a small magazine called Financial World that questioned the accounting of a highflying outfit, Baldwin-United. He’d decided he wanted to hire me on the basis of that one story. When I appeared in his office for my interview, I tried to explain that he was likely making a mistake—that the story had taken me forever to write. He seemed perversely delighted, insisting that skeptical stories took time and that he’d give me time.

Which he did. Over the next 2½ decades, I was able to write about financial shenanigans of all stripes—everything from the “aggressive” accounting of a Big Board company (whose shares lost a third of their value on the first trading day after the story) to a network of stock manipulators (who drew the ire of regulators and closed up shop) to an unscrupulous health-care outfit whose fraudulent machinations imperiled the lives of its patients (and whose stock virtually disappeared).

Alan was fearless, emboldened by an astonishing intelligence, uncanny market savvy, and extraordinarily good judgment. Pure and simple, he was a genius at what he did. And when companies howled, he was there for his writers—a veritable pit bull.

Alan’s ingrained skepticism, of course, was only part of the story. He also had a great eye for undervalued companies, a keen interest in unearthing undiscovered gems for his loyal readers. He delighted in perusing the new Standard & Poor’s sheets before they were filed away in binders. He encouraged us to do our own research, to pick up the phone and talk with companies to find story ideas. His enthusiasm, I confess, was infectious—a big reason, no doubt, I later began a column called Sizing Up Small-Caps.

Read more here.

Alan Abelson

A giant in business journalism

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Howard Gold writes for Marketwatch.com about why Barron’s columnist Alan Abelson, who died last week at the age of 87, was one of the greatest business journalists of all time.

Gold writes, “In a field not known for its humor (Allan Sloan being a notable exception), Abelson’s wit was dry and sly, and he had more varieties of sarcasm than Heinz had products. I suspect his was the best prose much of his Wall Street audience read all week, and many of them read him for pleasure as much as for work.

“But he also was a great editor who shaped business journalism during its Golden Age of the 1980s. That was the time of Michael Milken, leveraged buyouts, insider trading and the stock market crash of 1987.

“During that seminal period, Abelson turned a group of hungry reporters loose on the financial statements of companies whose stocks often had no business trading where they were. Woe to them if there was a hole in their balance sheets or a questionable statement in their footnotes; Abelson and his charges would find it and publish it.

“His edgy, analytical approach to business was similar to that of Jim Michaels, born four years earlier, who produced legendary journalism at Forbes and, like Abelson, trained what became the next generation of top business journalists.”

Read more here.

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The legacy of Alan Abelson’s life

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John Kostrzewa, the business editor of the Providence Journal, writes about the biggest legacy that Barron’s columnist Alan Abelson leaves the world of financial journalism.

Kostrzewa writes, “But in reading his obituary, here’s what caught my eye. He grew up in Queens and studied chemistry and English at City College of New York before earning a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

“He started as a copy boy at the New York Journal American in 1949 and became a reporter on the financial desk. He served as a stock market columnist before joining Barron’s in 1956 and was named managing editor in 1965. For years, he also wrote the influential Up & Down Wall Street column.

“The point is that Abelson had a well-rounded education and learned his beat and craft in slow, steady steps over decades. That’s in contrast to many of today’s financial bloggers who have a lot to say with little knowledge and experience to back it up. Abelson got it right, got it fast and got it all. That’s his legacy and all of us can learn from it.”

Read more here.

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Why we will all miss Alan Abelson

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Brooke Southall of RIABiz.com writes about why readers of Barron’s will really miss columnist Alan Abelson, who died earlier this week.

Southall writes, “Often things happen on Fridays and his columns that appeared Saturday mornings always seemed to assimilate late-breaking reality —without the sense of last-minute appending. I often coughed up the five bucks for Barron’s just to read his column, or detoured to the Mill Valley library where the keep them neatly stacked.

“They say all humor is based on the inside joke. It helps explain why we laugh so much with our best friends. But a sage like Abelson knows enough about what you think — things that even you didn’t know you were thinking — that he can play off of that.

“In other words, Abelson, from a writer’s perspective, knew people and how we all operate — with help from the insanity of the mass psychology of crowds — a theater of the absurd every day.

“That his writing oozed with plays on that absurdity did not make him frivolous. Quite the opposite. It connected the world of business, finance, investments and the people who are behind it all. If the finance world has a lack, it’s one of human connection.”

Read more here.

Ernie Heltsley

Former Arizona biz columnist Heltsley dies

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Ernie Heltsley, a business columnist and real estate reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, died May 4 in a hospice at age 79, reports the newspaper.

Carmen Duarte writes, “John Bolton, who was Heltsley’s editor for several years, said he was a tenacious investigative reporter with deep knowledge about the key local players in business and real estate, and their roles in Tucson’s economic booms and busts.

“‘Ernie had also done a lot of hard-nosed reporting about organized crime, and he was surprised one year to receive a Christmas card from Bill Bonanno,’ the son of retired Mafia crime family boss Joe Bonanno, Bolton recalled. ‘He didn’t know whether to be amused or worried.’

“He was among Star reporters who extensively covered the 1976 car bombing death of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles.

“Heltsley wrote a self-published book, ‘A Stroll Through Egypt and Paradise,’ after he retired. Southern Illinois is known as ‘Little Egypt’; Paradise is a town in western Kentucky celebrated in a 1970s song. Heltsley concentrated on the decades between 1920 and 1950 when his father was a Kentucky coal miner.”

Read more here.

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Former KC Star biz editor Miller dies

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Janet Miller, a former business editor of The Kansas City Star and Times, died Thursday. She was 65.

A story in the Star stated, “Miller, who was 65, joined the newspaper in 1969 as a business reporter and copy editor. Part of her beat involved covering the Kansas City Stockyards.

“Four years later, Miller was named assistant business editor, and in 1978 she was appointed business and financial editor of The Star and The Times. One of the few women financial editors at the time, Miller oversaw expansion of the newspaper’s business news department and helped groom journalistic talent.

“After leaving the paper in 1983, Miller embarked on a second career assisting several of the area’s prominent community and non-profit organizations. Among the organizations she served, Miller was known for ability to decipher complex financial information.

“Miller was involved with the Kansas City Art Institute for 22 years as a director. She also served one term as chairman.

Read more here.
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Abelson could move stock prices

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The writer who critiqued Wall Street and companies the most during the last 30 years of the 20th century was Alan Abelson of Barron’s, whose death at age 87 was announced on Thursday.

While the stock market rose to new heights for most of the 1990s, Abelson criticized the run-up on almost a weekly basis. Unfortunately, many investors ignored his rants.

For example, he wrote this about IBM investors in December 1992: “By our crude reckoning, these hapless souls have lost something over $28 billion this year, and of course, neither the year not possibly the damage is over. Contrast that to the $16 billion estimated cost of Hurricane Andrew, and the case for an official designation of IBM as a disaster area seems unanswerably compelling.”

A critical word from Abelson punctured more than one financial bubble, and cause stocks to rise with a kind word. His reputation of discovering scams and finding the truth on Wall Street is legendary. After his “Up and Down Wall Street” column lauded SEEC, which developed software to maintain computer systems, the stock rose 52 percent in one day in November 1998. And after he criticized PMT Services Inc., in consecutive issues of Barron’s in 1996, the company put out a press release to dispute his assertions in an attempt to keep the stock from falling.

It didn’t work.

Even as far back as the 1970s, Abelson drew the ire of hedge funds before their operations and tactics became commonly known on Wall Street and to the investing public. Many hedge funds short stocks, meaning they believe they will fall in price, not rise. A lawsuit brought by a Technicare Corp. shareholder accused Abelson of providing tips to these short sellers in advance of negative articles about companies.

Abelson denied the charges, which were never proven. “Back in the 1960s, people used to threaten to punch me in the nose when I said something negative about a company,” responded Abelson. “Now we live in different times. The suit is obviously an attempt to keep me quiet.”

Keeping Abelson – and other critical watchers of Wall Street – quiet has been hard for anybody to accomplish. Their reporting on the financial markets has brought to light illegal dealings, dozens of shady stock propositions and countless scam artists. Their work is respected by the scrupulous operators on Wall Street for acting as a semi-regulatory body.

With their writing, they sometimes alert federal regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission to potential transgressions. They sell newspapers and attract viewers to their media outlets. This reporting is what the quid pro quo should be for readers, viewers and listeners who often are investors.

I do not see anyone currently in business journalism who can skewer companies the way Abelson did. He will be missed.

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Abelson was one of the greatest market commentators

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Joshua Brown of The Reformed Broker writes Thursday about Barron’s columnist Alan Abelson, who has died at the age of 87.

Brown writes, “He was one of the greatest market commentators, financial writers and teachers in the history of Wall Street. There will be many eulogies for and remembrances of Alan this weekend, I am sure of it. So I’ll send you to his editor Ed Finn’s notice at Barron’s Online, but before that, below is one example (of thousands) of Mr. Abelson’s simultaneously biting and incandescent wit.

“This particular quote is from a January 2009 column of his, during the heat of the financial crisis and the socioeconomic and cultural upheaval that had brought the Democrats back to power. Here’s Abelson’s take on George W. Bush’s farewell address:

“His message was straightforward, consistent and clear: Thanks to his vigilance, this nation was spared a terrorist attack after 9/11. And so it was, for which we are all profoundly grateful. And only the most vehement Bush-basher would sniff that the real reason for the absence of an attack was that Mr. Bush did such a thorough number on the country all by himself that the terrorists figured, why bother?”

“There was more truth in Abelson’s curmudgeonly satire than you’ll find in all the research and rantings produced by the Wall Street machine that he covered so skeptically and humorously. He said what he thought and taught us all to think critically, especially when it counted – in times of wild-eyed, dangerous overconfidence.

“Rest in Peace, Alan, and thanks for being an early influence on a whippersnapper like me. You can’t imagine how much I’ve learned from your writing over the last fifteen years.”

Read more here.

Alan Abelson

Biz journalism legend Abelson has died

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Business journalism legend Alan Abelson, who worked for Barron’s for the past 57 years, has died.

Barron’s editor Ed Finn writes, “For many readers, there can be no substitute for Alan’s witty, wise and wonderfully written comments each week in Up and Down Wall Street. But Alan’s contributions to Barron’s, and to financial journalism, go beyond his marvelous column. During his career, Alan trained dozens of journalists to be skeptical, to be exacting, to help average investors, and to be on the lookout for Wall Street’s crooks. About 10 of these fine journalists still work at Barron’s, I’m happy to say. Others have gone on to do groundbreaking work at The New York Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and numerous financial newsletters.

“One of the unique things about Alan was that his keen knowledge of Wall Street was matched by his love of artful writing. Before Alan began his newspaper career in 1947, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Chemistry from The City College of New York and a master’s degree from the prestigious Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, which counts among its alumni Flannery O’Connor, Jane Smiley, and John Irving. In our view, Alan ranks among them.

“Alan arrived at Barron’s in 1956 and began writing his column in 1966.

“When Alan interviewed me for a job at Barron’s in 1993, he was 67. He had been Barron’s editor for a dozen years and its managing editor for 16 years before that. He told me he didn’t really want to manage people or edit stories anymore, but that he did enjoy writing his column. That’s when I came to Barron’s to manage and edit. Fortunately for me, for Barron’s and for our readers, Alan kept writing his column for the next 20 years, week in and week out, always with gracious prose, sharp insights and a hilarious sense of humor.”

Read more here.

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Bancroft member who sold WSJ dies

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William Cox Jr., a senior member of the Bancroft family that sold The Wall Street Journal to News Corp. in 2007, died at 82, according to people close to the family.

Martin Peers and Stephen Miller of The Journal write, “Mr. Cox, who spent his career at The Wall Street Journal as an advertising and client relations executive, was a longtime supporter of preserving the independence of the paper’s parent company, Dow Jones & Co.

“‘It has been in the family for a long time,’ Mr. Cox told a Journal reporter in 2007. ‘I want to see it stay in the family,’ he added.

“He later appeared to change his mind, however, telling the Journal he was ‘leaning toward a sale.’

“The deal went through in the summer of 2007, closing later that year when News Corp., led by  Rupert Murdoch, paid $5 billion for the company, a 67% premium above the share price when the offer was announced.”

Read more here.