Benjamin Graham was born in London in 1894, the son of an importer. His family migrated to America when Ben was very young and opened an importing business. They did not do well, Graham’s father dying not long after moving to America and his mother losing the family savings in 1907 during an economic crisis.
Graham, a star student, managed to get to Columbia University and, although offered a teaching post there after graduation, took a job as a chalker on Wall Street with Newburger, Henderson and Loeb. Before long, his natural intelligence won out when he began doing financial research for the firm and he became a partner in the firm. He was soon earning over $500,000 a year, a huge sum; not bad for a 25 year old.
In 1926, Graham formed an investment partnership with another broker called Jerome Newman. He also started lecturing at night on finance at Columbia, a relationship that was to continue until his retirement in 1956.
The Crash of 1929 almost wiped Graham out but the partnership survived with the assistance of friends and the sale of most of the partners’ personal assets. At one stage, Graham’s wife was forced to return to work as a dance teacher. Graham was soon back on his feet but he had learned valuable lessons that would soon be brought home to investors in his books.
In 1934, Benjamin Graham together with David Dodd, another Columbia academic, published the classic Security Analysis which has never been out of print. Despite the crash, the book proposed that it was possible to successfully invest in common stocks as long as sound investment principles were applied. Graham and Dodd introduced the concept of ‘intrinsic value’ and the wisdom of buying stocks at a discount to that value.
The partnership between Graham and Newman continued until 1956 but never again lost money for its investors, earning, we understand, an annual return of about 17 per cent. Graham continued as a partner, while writing and lecturing at Columbia, before retiring from that institution, also in 1956.
Warren Buffett studied under Graham at Columbia and approached him for a job in his investment firm. Graham declined but Buffett was persistent, and Graham finally yielded, giving Buffett a job in the firm. This was the start Buffett needed and he has never failed to acknowledge what he learned from Ben Graham.
It is interesting that one of the Graham/Newman investments was GEICO, which, as you probably know, was an early acquisition of Berkshire Hathaway and which remains today a major investment vehicle in the Buffett Group.
Graham had originally bought GEICO in 1948. Apparently, after the partnership bought it as a private business, it was found that an investment firm could not own an insurance company and accordingly Graham and Newman converted it to a public company and distributed its shares amongst their investors.
In 1949, Graham wrote The Intelligent Investor, considered the Bible of value investing. That book too has never been out of print.
Benjamin Graham died in 1976, with the reputation of being the ‘Father of Security Analysis.’