Mutual fund grand master Marty Whitman has a well-deserved rep as an obstinate and cantankerous cuss. For the fidgety Whitman, sitting still in a chair while a subordinate delivers a subpar financial analysis is impossible. Failing to follow Whitman's value-investing dicta would earn the poor slob a humiliating dressing-down. No one dared to second-guess Marty. Whitman's ability to out-think anyone has long been a fearsome thing. No one to this day can keep up with his lickety-split ability to read and analyze a company's 10-K filing.
But Martin J. Whitman has mellowed. At 81 he is cutting back somewhat; he and his wife just bought an apartment in Paris. He says he will keep working as long as he is physically and mentally able, but he has finally chosen a successor, Curtis Jensen, 43, his co-chief investment officer and manager of one of his funds. The question for investors: Does this unique value manager have in place talented apprentices who can carry on after him?
The answer, from David Barse, 44, chief executive of Whitman's Third Avenue Management, is yes. Barse says Whitman today is "comfortable" that his 17 managers and analysts have learned the Whitman Way. Indeed, the boss' emboldened lieutenants have changed him, moving him into areas he had ignored, didn't understand or disdained--into real estate, tech and international stocks. So Whitman has added three funds to be wingmen to his storied Third Avenue Value Fund.