Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Charles Stevenson

4.12.07 - Charles Stevenson is a prominent member of the New York community, unfamous but widely known by some of the most prominent and powerful men and women in the city. His antecedents reach back into the annals of the Knickerbocker families of Manhattan. His maternal grandmother went to Southampton when the rich New Yorkers used it mainly for duckhunting in autumn, and there have been Stevensons in residence there ever since. His bearing is representative of a society that was authentically WASP, a time, now only recalled, when it was believed there was a Society; proponents of a mode of conduct and social behavior that defined the American 20th century. He is also imbued with a strong sense of irony about it all.

A golfer, he has a long record of activity in upkeep and governance of the much coveted (by would be members anyway) Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton. Unlike the reputations of some of the institutions in which he holds membership, he has not a shred of snobbery personally. In New York he’s head of the board of 740 Park Avenue, the much coveted co-op, now historically portrayed in Michael Gross’ book of the same name. Charles is also known to be a very rich man, whether that is true or not. Although unbeknownst to many people, despite his affluent family background, he made it himself.

He was a bright boy who went to Yale at the same time as our current President. On graduating, not sure of what he wanted to pursue professionally, and considering a career as a writer, he supported himself by painting apartments in Manhattan. He also saved on rent by putting up in the same apartments in a sleeping bag.

At some point around that time in the early 70s, someone suggested to him that he take some of his savings and put it in the commodities market. An adventurer in many ways, he took something like $18,000 and more than tripled his money in as many weeks. Astounded by the amazing increase, he re-invested his capital in another commodity and quickly saw a decline. Nevertheless, fascinated by the results, he started visiting The New York Public Library regularly reading about the history of markets and the world in the New York Times, especially in the period between 1927 and 1933.

Not long after, with some money he’d saved, and some put up by friends, he started a hedge fund. Hedge funds were a very new idea. The investment climate of the 70s was also not propitious. It was the time of the Gasoline/Oil Shortage, the end of the Viet Nam War, the interest rates that eventually rose to 21% prime. Real Estate values plummeted; developers stopped developing. The stock market limped along. Charles Stevenson, however prospered. Within little more than six years, some of his investors walked away with 100 times their original investment. And within the annals of the contemporary investment community, a kind of legend was born.

The personality is sunny yet serious. The point of view is contemporary. He’s what we used to call brainy. But with a streak of curiosity about the outré and the fun-loving. He’s very athletic, a squash champion, an addicted snowboarder (he has a house in Idaho, as well as a remote ranch in another part of that state), a dedicated golfer. He’s intensely interested in the environment around himself. His acreage near the ocean in Southampton is always in a kind of natural transformation with copious plantings. He loves animals, has had chickens, guinea hens, cats and dogs. He’s been married four times (currently to journalist/author Alex Kuczynski) and has six children. He’s on the board of Trustees of Bard College to which he’s been a major donor. He divides his time between Manhattan and Southampton in the warmer months and Idaho in the snowtime.