The Weird Al of Wall Street

Lazard biotech analyst Joel Sendek's voicemail ditties have drawn a cult following.

By Corey Hajim, Fortune reporter

(Fortune Magazine) -- In the late 1960s, Don McLean penned the nostalgic anthem "American Pie" in part to respond to what he saw as the beginning of a dark era for the U.S. Similarly, in May of this year, Lazard Capital Markets sell-side analyst Joel Sendek was feeling nostalgic about the growth of Amgen's anemia drug, Erythropoietin, which was fading. So he started singing:

Bye-bye, Erythropoietin pie.

Joel Sendek says that he made the connection between Erythropoietin sales and Don McLean on a long bike ride (but it could have been lack of sleep).

Drove my growth rate with the pipeline,

But the pipeline is dry...

...along with eight other verses, left in the voicemail boxes of about 350 clients. (You can listen to "Bye, Bye, Erythropoetin Pie" here).

The two-minute ditty wasn't the first time Sendek, 40, broke into song. As a sell-side analyst, Sendek researches biotech companies, making calls on whether investors should buy, hold, or sell stocks. Most of his opinions are disseminated through research notes and voicemail blasts. But for the past five years, Sendek has been spicing up his voicemails, at first by adding more colorful language, then rhyming phrases, and later composing biotech power ballads.

It all started in December 2002, when investors were waiting for an FDA advisory panel recommendation on MedImmune's (Charts) flu vaccine FluMist. Punchy from caffeine and lack of sleep, he wrote "The Night Before FluMist," a bit of seasonal poetry recommending investors sell shares after the stock gained from the news. His call turned out to be spot-on. After rising 40%, the stock fell; a year later it was down 8%. (By comparison, the S&P's health-care index rose 12%.) "I view it as one of the major successes of my career," he says.

The riffs kept coming. Sendek's spoken word turned musical, and he was soon parodying the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, even Louis Armstrong. In short order, Wall Street's answer to Weird Al Yankovic built up a cultlike following among fund managers and hedgies (Amgen (Charts, Fortune 500) says it has never heard his work). While he has yet to make Institutional Investor's All-American Research Team, Sendek has something the competition doesn't: three CDs.

He can't say for sure where his inspiration comes from. Some ideas germinate during solitary bike rides in Westchester, where he lives with his wife and three children; others come after a grueling week of earnings reports sends him into 30-minute writing trances. It was on his bike that the connection between Erythropoietin sales and Don McLean hit him. Back at work, he Googled the lyrics and stitched his masterpiece together.

In a way, Sendek's efforts are not surprising. Sell-side analysts are challenged not only by regulatory requirements, which can dull down written opinions, but also by competition, with throngs of analysts following the same stocks (Amgen is covered by 34). Voicemails, which are approved by Lazard, are a way to be more expressive. And while initial feedback was mixed -- Sendek says he used to approach his phone with trepidation the morning after a late-night blast -- his tunes are now talked about and forwarded for days. "You get so many voicemails, and they all say the same thing," says one client. "His are a nice, goofy ray of hope in a legion of gloom."

Listen to more Sendek's voicemail hits:

A biotech jingle: 'The 12 Days of Christmas'

Biogen: 'Should I stay or should I...'

Genentech: 'Wonderful World' Top of page