Sequoia Fund Manager, Philanthropist William J. Ruane

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 6, 2005

William J. Ruane, 79, one of Wall Street's most successful investment managers and a philanthropist with an abiding interest in education and mental health, died Oct. 4 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

He died of complications from lung cancer, according to David Poppe of Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb, of which Mr. Ruane was chairman. At the time of his death, he also was co-manager of the Sequoia Fund.

Mr. Ruane and partner Richard T. Cunniff founded their investment management firm in 1969 after raising $20 million from investors. Most of their customers came to them on the recommendation of Warren Buffett, Mr. Ruane's former classmate and close friend.

The company's Sequoia Fund, a mutual fund that has substantially outperformed the Standard & Poor 500 index since its inception in 1970, has been so successful that it has been closed to new business since 1982.

Mr. Ruane also served on numerous boards, including those of Geico, Data Documents Inc. and The Washington Post.

"What Bill Ruane did for The Washington Post was of incalculable value," said Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Post. "He helped with every acquisition we made during the time he was on the board and afterward."

Graham recalled Mr. Ruane as "outgoing and jovial" and as "a detail-minded investor."

"There was no such thing as a short conversation with Bill," he said. "Once he became interested in a problem, he wanted to know everything there was to know about it."

Mr. Ruane was born in Chicago and grew up in its Oak Park suburb. He graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1945 with a degree in electrical engineering. He enlisted in the Navy immediately after graduating and was on his way to Japan when World War II ended.

In 1947, he joined General Electric Corp., where he learned that engineering was not for him. "I'm a mechanical idiot," he told Forbes magazine.

He enrolled at Harvard Business School and found his calling when a professor urged his class to read the classic textbook "Security Analysis: Principles and Techniques" (1940). Although he knew nothing about stocks, he was impressed with the approach by authors Benjamin Graham and David Dodd to financial analysis.

Mr. Ruane recalled interviewing with a Wall Street investment firm and being told that college graduates were paid $35 a week, while Harvard Business School graduates were paid $37.50. "And there you have the value of a Harvard Business School degree in 1949," he remarked this year. "Things have changed."

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