Thursday, May 26, 2011

Joe Battipaglia: In Memorium

I just learned of the unfortunate passing of Joe He passed away in mid-April, from a heart attack. Joe was beloved in the financial community and the odds are good that if you were at all a regular watcher of financial shows over the past decade you probably saw him on TV.

He always made his case vigorously, but I can't remember even one time I saw him yell at or belittle anyone on one of those shows. His facts spoke for themselves.

Doing a little research online I have since learned a good deal more about Joe. He was a remarkable person in many ways. According to his CNBC guest bio he "was the son of a sanitation worker, grew up in Queens, only child, first in family to attend college. Graduate, Phi Beta Kappa, economics, Boston College, 1976. Played rugby, lacrosse. MBA from Wharton, 1978. Market strategist (private client group) at Stifel Nicolaus, began career as analyst at Exxon and Elkins & Co. Joined Gruntal & Co., where he spent 18 years. Chaired investment policy at Ryan, Beck & Co. Former trustee of the Securities Industry Institute ... Married 1980, wife Mary Ann. Sons Matthew (Dartmouth) and Jeff (U.S. Naval Academy) played college football; also has daughter, Christen. Helped get employees out of One Liberty Plaza, across from WTC, on 9/11. Frequent guest of Larry Kudlow, Fox Business. Suffered heart attack in Georgia, where he had gone to speak at investors luncheon. Recalled in memoriam as "gentle giant," "very generous guy."'

That's a lot for any person, especially one who went so young, 55. He was also 6'7" and 300 pounds. He cut an imposing figure, I suppose.

I knew him personally, not well, I need to add. But I did know him. When we were starting Intelligent Investing at three years ago there was this idea that we would have an "Investor Team" of financial wizards and superstars that we would use in regular rotation for our stories. Build a repertoire of experts, in a way.

The only problem was we had no real experts or stars. I didn't know where to exactly begin recruiting such a team, either. But the fact was, we needed some names, it was what the entire thing kind of was premised upon.

Somehow Joe Battipaglia's name came up. He was extremely well known among those who follow the markets. Maybe not known to everyone on the street, but definitely known to everyone on The Street.

We had little time to lose. We had to begin cranking out stories, and still did not really have our experts. I had a fairly lengthy list of people who hadn't called me back when I asked for their help. The list of those who would help, though, was much, much smaller.

So I, out of the blue, called Joe. I didn't know him. He sure did not know me. Having seen him on TV I was, to be truthful, a bit intimidated. I expected to leave a message and never hear from him again, as had already happened so many times.

Instead, to my surprise, I got him on the phone. I told him about what we were doing, or trying to do, and who I was. I said the word "Forbes" as much as I could to give myself some credibility by association.

After about 25 seconds of my spiel Joe said he would do it. Suddenly, I had a source for one of our inaugural stories, and a big one at that. I believe it was about the future price of oil a hot topic, then as now. I nervously took notes, and he slowly went over every point a few times, patiently. His voice was a rumbling basso profundo, but easy to understand. All in all I interviewed him for maybe 10 minutes that day, but he gave me a lot to work with. I was profoundly grateful.

Because he has so impressed me with his generosity of time and spirit I made sure to call him back before the final draft went online. I went over each of his points, making sure I had the facts just right. Believe me, this can be a dicey time. Sources can often get shockingly prickly when you read back to them what they actually said to you. Joe merely listened patiently, made a few additional supporting points, to make sure I really understood it, and then when it was over said something like "yeah, I think you got it."

The story ran, and we were on our way with a great new channel on the website.

The truth is I think I maybe interviewed Joe one additional time after that. He was busy, always going to conferences. I could often get him on the phone, though, even if he was just telling me no. "You know Dave, I would really love to, but things have just been so crazy here. But please keep me in mind for next time."

I did, and even if he kept not being able to do it I always left those little phone chats feeling pretty good. Here he was, a big man, in his field, in so many ways, but he always had the time to at least take the call.

I never met Joe in person. I think I told him that if I ever came down to Philly I would like to say hi. He agreed, if I am remembering correctly, that that would be nice.

I can't claim some great friendship with him, that would not be honest. But he was a friend to me, a stranger, when I really needed it. He was a good person, a very smart Wall Street analyst, and I am very sorry to learn that he is no longer with us.

1 comment:

Judith LaFeir said...

I just googled his name now and found your site too. Thank you for giving the info.I enjoyed watching him on CNBC. I wonder what Mark and him are up to up there.