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Catching Up With . . . John Dorfman

A Shift in Focus: From Ink to Money

by Brooke C. Stoddard '69

John Dorfman grew up in Glencoe, Illinois outside Chicago and came to Princeton from New Trier High School in Winnetka. New Trier at the time had 4,800 students. John would have been "highest ranking senior boy” but was edged out at the last minute by Paul King who joined John's New Trier class late. Happily, Paul also came to Princeton in our Class and has been a long-time friend of John’s. 

    John applied to Princeton having never visited campus, but his older brother had been a member of the Class of 1961 and gave favorable reports. Soon after arriving in Princeton, John took up debating as an activity but because he enjoyed writing in high school he found time to try out for the University Press Club, a select cadre to which outside newspapers and periodicals turned for stories of the University and town. "The tryouts were rigorous," John recalls. "Each submitted trial article was thoroughly scrutinized and critiqued. I was thrilled to survive this process and get doused with beer at the end. After that, the Press Club was my major extracurricular activity during my Princeton years." One interesting assignment was for the Trentonian; despite being a freshman, John covered President Lyndon Johnson's speech to the University at the Woodrow Wilson School in early May, 1966.

    In keeping with his interest in writing, John majored in English and cultivated his love of literature. He wrote his thesis on how major authors from Twain to Faulkner revealed emotion in their characters.

    After Princeton, John worked as a journalist for 27 years, writing principally about business and finance. A stint of 11 years – nine in New York and two in Boston -- was at the Wall Street Journal, where John's title was senior special writer and where he began a series that still continues rating stock analysts on their records. John was also on staff at Forbes, which he considered quite employee-friendly and dynamic. He served as a writer and later executive editor at Consumer Reports, where among other things he witnessed intriguing product tests (one pounded mattresses with a rod terminating in two halves of a bowling ball). He also braved the winds of freelance writing for eight years, during which he contributed to Playboy, Money, Chicago and other journals and wrote eight books, including Family Investment Guide.

    John's work at the Wall Street Journal led to interviews and acquaintances with the nation's major money managers. "I began to appreciate how the good money managers viewed the world we live in," he recalls. "Journalism understandably tries to see how our circumstances are different on Thursday than they were on Wednesday, although often they really aren't. Money managers -- two influences were Sir John Templeton and David Dreman -- don't approach their work that way. Their decisions keep working for them or against them until they change those decisions.  In addition, there was the appeal of being judged quantitatively in comparison to one's peers." So when a hedge fund manager approached John with the notion of hiring him, John was intrigued.

    That offering foundered but in 1995 John did join David Dreman's firm in New Jersey, Dreman Value Management.  For two years, John worked at funds run by Dreman, a noted and successful contrarian investor. Two years into his work for Dreman, John felt the itch for calling more of his own shots and discussed with Dreman the notion of leaving to start his own firm. Dreman offered to keep John within the firm while at the same time establishing an outside fund on his own. This arrangement worked well for the next three years until John's outside effort grew significantly. It was time to leave.

    John founded Dorfman Value Investments in 2000 and still runs it from Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts. Clients who invested with John 16 years ago have seen their holdings rise more than 300%, or three times the pace of the overall market. "There have been some struggles along the way, but in all I am proud of what we have done," he says. The company has about a hundred accounts.

    John's wife of 20 years Katharine Davidge works at the firm as an analyst and portfolio manager. Two children Thomas and Anna are of college age. Their youngest, Jamie, is 16 and has cerebral palsy. By John's account she plays a mean game of Monopoly and does so with her dad just about every day. She speaks with the aid of a computer and attends a school for students with special needs. On occasion, the family spends time on a small lake in New Hampshire.

    John’s two children from his first marriage, Laura and Jessica, live in Cambridge England and Philadelphia respectively.  Laura works with linguistics and computers at Cambridge University.  She is also raising three children.  Jessica is a freelance film editor and just had her first baby. 

    John's office is about a mile from his home and he often walks. He is not looking to an imminent retirement. His favored hobby is chess. On Tuesday nights he engages in tournaments with the members of the Metro West Chess Club, New England's largest club for aficionados of the venerable game. "I'm getting better," he says casually, not out of keeping with a man who made a major slide across the board by moving from one successfully career to another.

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