My Dinner with Harry Markowitz, The Father of Modern Portfolio Theory
The personal side of the man who shaped the investments industry: Harry Markowitz, 1927–2023
Imagine a little league baseball player who suddenly found himself in a game of pick-up with Joe DiMaggio, hanging-out for hours together, hitting a few balls, making some catches, chatting, listening, and gaining the occasional nugget into how to improve his game. Well, that’s how I felt in May 2012. I was a 53-year old with a PhD in finance from Wharton, having taught investments and portfolio management at the Ivey Business School at Western University for the past 25 years — and I was going to have dinner with my hero, the 1990 Nobel laureate in economics, Dr. Harry Markowitz, along with his wife Barbara! I was going to have dinner with the father of Modern Portfolio Theory!
The wheels had been set in motion the previous year. As I was planning for an upcoming sabbatical, I decided that it would be fascinating to write a book on the history of portfolio management. Since it would have a biographical component, the natural first chapter would focus on where portfolio theory began, with Dr. Markowitz. I was looking for a fellow collaborator and I bounced the idea off my friend Andrew Lo, a distinguished professor of finance at MIT (he was my professor at Wharton in the first doctoral course he ever taught), well-respected among both academics and practitioners, and having managed his own hedge funds. Based on secondary sources, we developed a draft of the first chapter and we were looking to add color. We quickly realized we needed to try to arrange to interview the man himself. As luck would have it, while we were corresponding via email and discussing next steps, I was embarking on a business trip to the San Diego area, where Dr. Markowitz lived. Since Andrew had known Dr. Markowitz for years and they had such strong mutual respect, a get-together for me was quickly arranged by Andrew. While I was in a meeting, my Blackberry vibrated to alert me with a simple text: “Dinner with Markowitz tomorrow at 7pm?” I quickly responded “Definitely!” I was to meet Dr. Markowitz and Barbara at their chosen restaurant.