James D. Hardesty, who rose from the Alex. Brown & Sons mailroom to be a co-founder of Hardesty Capital Management, from which he recently retired, died Tuesday of complications from liver disease at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Ruxton resident was 68.
"Jim was a dyed-in-the-wool value investor," said J. Scott Murphy, a partner and chief operating officer at Hardesty Capital Management. "He was a value investor through and through."
The son of J. Early Hardesty, financial vice president of Black & Decker, and Dorothy Dunn Hardesty, a homemaker, James Dunn Hardesty was born in Baltimore and raised in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Baltimore County.
After graduating from Gilman School in 1964, he earned a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University in 1968, where one of his classmates was Bill Clinton.
"I and many other freshmen met the president-to-be on my first day at Georgetown. He was very outgoing, and though I did not realize it, he may have already been running for class president, a position he won a month later and kept for all four years," Mr. Hardesty told The Baltimore Sun in an interview two years ago.
"I observed the fast-paced action of some of the departments, watched traders diving for banks of phones ringing constantly, and roaming through the quiet, almost library-like atmosphere of the investment banking and research depart ments," he told The Sun in 2013.
He passed among the partners who sat at antique roll-top desks on the main floor of the financial institution, and when his workday ended, Mr. Hardesty busied himself reading research reports for hours in the firm's library.
"That summer, I knew that I was in the middle of Baltimore's most powerful financial center," he said. "I loved everything about it — I was hooked on a career."
Mr. Hardesty began his career at Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co. as an analyst, and then left in 1972 to join Investment Counselors of Maryland, which was founded that year.
He left ICM in the mid-1970s and returned to Mercantile.
He was named director of research in 1979, and was elected chief investment officer in 1980, and finally executive vice president in 1986.
Mr. Hardesty was a co-founder of Hardesty Capital Management in 1995 with V. Randolph "Randy" McMenamin.
The firm was originally located in the historic Latrobe Building on East Read Street in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood.
Mr. Hardesty, who favored blue blazers and conservative shirts and ties, looked as if he belonged more on a private school or college campus rather than in a silk-stocking firm as a chartered financial analyst.
He was known for combining his vast and detailed knowledge of American economic history and history in general with that of the petroleum, energy and health care industries.
"No one wanted the energy sector because of the energy crisis, but Jim liked it and he got to know the people in the business, and this was before consolidation of the industry," said Mr. Murphy.
"Jim was an extraordinary analyst and had inherited from his father a skill for financial numbers. He could also quickly synthesize business data," said Stephen T. Scott, who is retired from ICM, where he was a principal, and earlier had worked at Mercantile and ICM with Mr. Hardesty.
"He could really see and understand business strategies very well," said Mr. Scott, who is chairman of the board of Harford Mutual Insurance Co. "And he thoroughly enjoyed his work."
In a 1999 article in The Sun, Mr. Hardesty offered some advice to investors.
"Watch out for those high-risk investments," he said, and recommended putting no more than 5 percent of assets in venture capital or real estate.
He also thought investors should avoid tax shelters, which he said were "unrewarding," because the tax codes change so often, trapping the investor in an outdated scheme.
A charming conversationalist who was gifted with an urbane and pointed wit and an easygoing demeanor, Mr. Hardesty said in the interview that financial planners learn a variety of lessons from external sources and unexpected places.
"I realize now that one thing critical to wealthy people is you have to have a great hairdresser," he said.
One of his very wealthy clients asked Mr. Hardesty to manage the finances of her hairdresser, whose goal was to raise enough money to send her daughter to college.
While the hairdresser's finances were nowhere near Mr. Hardesty's required $400,000 prerequisite to handle her affairs, he decided to do it anyway.
"Now she's probably one of my favorite clients," he said.
Mr. Hardesty was a protege of Benjamin Graham, who began teaching at Columbia Business School in the late 1920s and is considered the father of value investing.
When new hires joined his company, Mr. Hardesty presented them a copy of Mr. Graham's seminal 1949 work, "The Intelligent Investor."
Hardesty Capital Management now has headquarters in Hunt Valley and has nearly $1 billion in assets under management.
Mr. Hardesty, who was board chairman, market strategist and chief economist, retired in April.
"The firm's assets under management are at record levels and virtually all of our financial metrics are in new territory," he told The Sun last month.
Mr. Hardesty was a member of the board of Harford Mutual Insurance Co. and was a former board member of Gilman School, Walters Art Museum, and Family & Children's Services of Central Maryland.
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