Christopher Browne, a genteel money manager who helped bring down newspaper baron Conrad Black, died Dec. 13 of a heart attack.
Officials at Tweedy Browne & Co., where Mr. Browne was principal, couldn’t confirm his age.
Although relatively small with about $10 billion in assets under management, Tweedy Browne is known for its ability to sniff out bargains most investors missed. Mr. Browne succinctly spelled out the firm's buy-on-the-cheap strategy in his 2006 tome titled “The Little Book of Value Investing.”
“Buy stocks like when you buy everything else,” he advised readers, “when they are on sale.” He frequently likened the value investing strategy to “buying $1 for 66 cents.”
His firm, where he had worked since 1969 and which his father co-founded, occupied a special niche in Wall Street lore due its relationships with two legendary clients: Ben Graham, author of two seminal books on the subject of how to value stocks, and Mr. Graham's most famous pupil, Warren Buffett. Tweedy Browne brokered trades for Mr. Graham from the 1930s through the ‘50s and from that experience developed an extensive business relationship with Mr. Buffett.
It helped Mr. Buffett acquire his stake in Berkshire Hathaway, and one of Tweedy's partners teamed up with Mr. Buffett in 1958 to try to corner the market in out-of-print 4-cent American blue eagle airmail stamps. It appears as if the buying failed to help lift the value of the remaining stamps in circulation, but, on the other hand, Tweedy owned so many stamps that it didn't need a postage meter for years.
But the firm’s great moments weren’t only in the past. Starting in 2001, Mr. Browne took on one of the big bullies of corporate America, Mr. Black, owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, London’s Daily Telegraph and several other newspapers.
In 2001, Mr. Browne’s firm began raising questions about accounting and management decisions at Mr. Black’s company, Hollinger International. Mr. Browne's main objection was that Hollinger's shareholders were bankrolling Mr. Black's lavish personal lifestyle. Among other things, Mr. Black had his company pay for the tips his wife doled out during her shopping trips to Bergdorf Goodman and billed Hollinger $90,000 to refurbish a Rolls-Royce he drove around London.
“I'm not critical of how people want to live as long as they're spending their own money,” Mr. Browne told BusinessWeek in 2004.
Eventually, Mr. Browne’s questions led to an investigation by Hollinger’s board, which accused Mr. Black of running a “corporate kleptocracy.” Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Black with fraud in 2005. In 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
Mr. Browne was a trustee of the Paley Center for Media and Rockefeller University, home of the Christopher H. Browne Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases. He also was a longtime trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, establishing a center for international politics at the school’s political science department and leading the effort to build the Penn Club of New York on West 44th Street.
He stepped down from Tweedy Browne’s management and investment committees in July, citing health reasons. “I took this as a wake-up call about the fragility of life,” Mr. Browne said, in a statement at the time.
Aaron Elstein is senior reporter at Crain's New York Business, a sister publication of Pensions & Investments.