Fayez Sarofim with wife Susan, 2018.
Getty Images for UNICEF
Fayez Sarofim, the billionaire money manager, died Saturday at his home in Houston, at age 93.
“I’ve always claimed it took someone from abroad to recognize the true potential in this country,” said Fayez Shalaby Sarofim in his first interview with Forbes Magazine in 1969. Back then Sarofim — 41 at the time — was a money man on the rise. The native-born Egyptian was known as The Sphinx for his inscrutable demeanor and his calm, unshakable faith in American exceptionalism. He bought blue chip stocks like P&G, Coca-Cola
, Philip Morris, was an early investor in Intel
and Teledyne, and he believed wholeheartedly in the economic power of the United States not just to make money, but to compound it.
“The U.S. is still a relatively young nation among industrialized nations. It can still mount the effort to become more competitive through technology,” he said at the time. “It’s blessed with natural resources and, equally important, the brainpower. And the U.S political system is still the most stable of all.”
His Coptic Christian family had left their native Egypt after the government ordered Sarofim’s wealthy father to sell his land or have it seized by the state. He arrived in the U.S. in 1946 and after school at UC Berkeley and Harvard, owlish Fayez entered finance and developed a knack for stockpicking.
With $100,000 from dad he launched Fayez Sarofim & Co. in 1958. Along with startup capital, his father gave him advice: “He told me not to draw a salary but to pour any profits back into the business so as to give the clients the best possible service. The profits would come later.”
This fish-out-of-water’s conviction of American exceptionalism played well among the oil tycoons in his adopted hometown of Houston, where despite the heat and humidity he stuck to his London-tailored three-piece suits. But it was his first wife Louisa Stude — a Grace Kelly lookalike and niece of George Brown, one of the founders of oilfield services firm of Brown & Root, now a subsidiary of Halliburton
— who really opened doors for Sarofim. An early coup was landing management of the $65 million endowment of Rice University.
By 1969 he had more than 400 clients and $1.2 billion under management. During the mid-1970s he bravely bought stocks at deep discounts. By 1980 assets had grown to $7 billion. He held on to oil stocks too long in the early 1980s when they crashed. But he kept the faith, and in a Forbes cover story in 1980 lamented that the market was weighed down with “too much pessimism.”