I learned enough — he is a Chevy Chase native who attended Gonzaga High School and graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he studied Shakespeare, Dante and the great poets — to know he was worth a write-up.
So how did someone who quotes from “Henry IV” and “Macbeth” end up managing $800 million worth of investments for institutions, governments and wealthy individuals?
“I got a job out of Sewanee teaching English at a private New England boarding school called Pomfret,” said Farr, 51. After three years, “I decided I was not going to be able to teach ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ for the next 50 years, so I decided to try the most difficult thing I could think of, which was Wall Street.”
The biggest parts of success are initiative and persistence. Farr is a perfect example. He put himself forward.
“Just ask,” my wife, Polly, always tells me.
“I called some of my students’ parents, who were on Wall Street,” he said. “The majority of the wealthy kids I was teaching had a bunch of Type A parents on Wall Street. When the 11th- or 12th-grade English teacher calls and asks a favor, these parents jump.”
He landed a stockbroker’s job in his home town of Washington, working for Richmond-based Wheat First Securities. He started selling at an office on 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It was early 1989, right after the big crash.
“I remember the first call, where I called a man about mutual funds,” said Farr, who was 26 at the time. “I was so thrilled somebody hadn’t hung up. He asked me two questions, and I answered both of them. Then he asked me a third question. He wanted to know the fund’s fees. I had no idea, and I panicked and hung up.”
His leads for calls came wherever he could find them. He would call alumni directories, troll the Yellow Pages. One day, his boss dumped a stack of three-by-five cards with names left by a recently departed broker.
Eventually, Farr earned a name for himself. In 1990, he joined Alex. Brown & Sons, an investment bank in Baltimore. His salary and commissions went through the roof.
After six years, he was approached by two senior brokers in the firm — then 75 and 77 — who wanted to start their own firm instead of retiring. If Farr would put up the money, find the office space and staff it, they would supply their client lists.
Why, I asked, did you give up a high-paying job to start your own firm?
“I was paying a lot in taxes every year and helping to build the equity value for shareholders of Alex. Brown & Sons. I figured if I own my own company, the value grows, tax-deferred, because I own the asset rather than everything getting taxed as earned income.”