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Mutual Funds > Zweig on Funds
The Best Investor You've Never Heard Of
June, 2000

From a nondescript apartment in Des Moines, Joseph Rosenfield - a longtime pal of Warren Buffett - has turned $11 million into $1 billion. Who is he, and how did he do it?
By Jason Zweig
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This spring, in a modest apartment in Des Moines, Joseph Frankel Rosenfield quietly marks his 96th birthday. Rosenfield has far more to celebrate than living all the way from Theodore Roosevelt's first presidential term to Bill Clinton's second. If he were not a profoundly modest man, his mailbox would burst with birthday cards inscribed, "To one of the greatest investors in the world."--You've probably never heard of Joe Rosenfield, but trust me: You can learn a lot from him. Rosenfield is renowned among a small circle of elite money managers--including Warren Buffett, who has been one of his closest friends since the 1960s. How does Buffett sum up this master investor? "Joe," says Buffett, "is a triumph of rationality over convention." By ignoring the conventional wisdom about investing, Rosenfield has made money grow faster and longer than almost anyone else alive. Since 1968, he's turned $11 million into more than $1 billion. He has heaped up those gains not with hundreds of rapid-fire trades but by buying and holding--often for decades. In 30 years, he's made fewer than a half-dozen major investments and has sold even more rarely. "If you like a stock," says Rosenfield, "you've got to be prepared to hold it and do nothing."

From the mid-'60s through the mid-'90s, Rosenfield was the key member of the investment committee at his alma mater, Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. It is for Grinnell, not for himself, that Rosenfield has worked most of his investing magic. By 1999, little Grinnell--with its 1,300 students and its 108-acre campus--had the largest endowment per student of any private liberal arts college in the country. Its total endowment, at $1.02 billion, dwarfed those not only of top liberal arts schools like Amherst and Vassar but also of giants like Carnegie-Mellon and Georgetown.

Allow me to introduce you to the man who turned one of the finest small colleges in the country into the richest. Lanky, with long hands and keen green eyes, Rosenfield spends most of his time in a wheelchair since undergoing knee surgery last year. Full of charisma, wisdom and wisecracks, he retains a mind as sharp as a razor. He decks himself out in dress slacks and a Chicago Cubs shirt. For decades, Rosenfield personally owned 3% of the team, and in his seventies he vowed to stay alive until the Cubs win a World Series--which may explain the air of immortality that surrounds him.

Rosenfield graduated from Grinnell with a B.A. in political science in 1925, one year ahead of Frank "Cowboy" Cooper, who later became famous as actor Gary Cooper. In 1948, after practicing law for more than 20 years, Rosenfield became chairman of Younkers, a growing retailing chain that had bought out his family's department store in Des Moines. In the 1960s, however, as he neared Younkers' retirement age of 65, Rosenfield began to devote more time to Grinnell, whose board he'd joined in 1941. Says trustee Gardiner Dutton, "The day I joined the board in 1970, Joe said to me, 'Our job is to make this institution financially impregnable.' Those were his exact words."






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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.