Friday, August 7, 2009

Survivor of Nazi brutality ascended Wall Street

Andrew Lanyi: 1925-2009

In a Hungarian accent so thick that some of his clients could barely understand his recommendations, Mr. Lanyi dispensed pearls of wisdom that became part of his legend.

He listed a dozen of his favorites in his 1992 memoir, "Confessions of a Stockbroker." Among them: "The only people who sell at the highs and buy at the lows are liars." And then there was his sure-fire deal-closer: "You and I want to swim the English Channel, let's put our toe in the water."

Mr. Lanyi's immersion extended to holding most of the stocks he recommended, something that many Wall Street firms have tried to avoid by separating brokerage and analysis. But to Mr. Lanyi, owning what he recommended was proof of his credibility.

What he did was an old-fashioned custom of putting your money where your mouth is; what big firms did was to pump up stocks of firms they did business with in order to benefit underhandedly. Separating brokerage and analysis was a sham, when both functions were performed by the same firm.

"What everyone knows isn't worth knowing," he often said, attributing the quote to journalist Walter Lippmann.

A native of Budapest, Mr. Lanyi was enslaved during World War II to help the Germans build airports and other facilities for the Wehrmacht. "It was vastly better than being locked into a concentration camp," he wrote in his memoir. He crossed the border into Austria during the 1956 Soviet crackdown in Hungary, and managed to make it to the United States.

For his funeral, an announcement read in part: "Guests are encouraged to wear primary colors or bright clothing in memory of Andrew's colorful style of dressing."

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