The secret to value investing is holding onto underpriced stocks for a long time until they reach their true value. Few people were in a position to follow through as literally as Irving Kahn, who until his death last week Tuesday at 109 was Wall Street’s oldest stockbroker and presumed to be the world’s oldest active investment professional.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Kahn landed his first job as a runner delivering papers and securities on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange a few months before the 1929 stock market crash.
“After one week of working there, I decided to quit because I thought the people were crazy,” Kahn said in an interview in 2012. “They were running around and screaming at each other during trading hours, and they were like clowns!”
His boss persuaded him to stay in finance, and he became a brokerage assistant at the old exchange firm H. Hentz & Co. One evening, he asked a bookkeeper to show him the company’s profit-and-loss ledgers. His eyes immediately fell on a series of investments that consistently made money and rarely lost profit. They all belonged to one person: Benjamin Graham.
“I went over to Graham’s offices at the Cotton Exchange on Beaver Street and that was the beginning of my career,” he told Barron’s magazine in 2005.
The strategy of Graham, commonly considered the “father of value investing,” influenced hordes of young investors, among them Warren Buffett.
“If we buy something which is generally well thought of by the Street and popular, then we’re probably doing something wrong,” Kahn joked.
Irving Kahn was born in New York City on Dec. 19, 1905. His father was an electrical-fixtures salesman, and his mother ran a shirtwaist shop in their home. He was part of an age-defying family and one of four centenarian siblings; his younger brother, Peter, died at age 103, and his older sisters, Helen and Lee, died at ages 109 and 101, respectively.
The Kahns were believed to be the world’s oldest quartet of siblings, and his family’s longevity was studied extensively through the Longevity Genes Project at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Researchers found all the siblings possessed a gene, abbreviated CETP, that controls cholesterol and protects against Alzheimer’s and heart disease.