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Charles Wolf, former Mason City resident, dies at 81

By Stephen Miller, bloomberg.com (Re-printed at request of local friends)

Charlie Wolf (Photographer: Susan Goldman/Bloomberg)
Charlie Wolf
(Photographer: Susan Goldman/Bloomberg)

Charles Wolf, a celebrated Apple Inc. analyst at Needham & Co. who jumped to Wall Street after teaching at Columbia Business School for almost two decades, has died. He was 81.

He died on Oct. 28 at his Manhattan apartment, his wife, Margot Wolf, said yesterday. The cause was lung cancer. He had been working through the weekend reviewing Apple’s latest financial results, she said.

Wolf was often sought out by business journalists for his views about Cupertino, California-based Apple. He also wrote the technology newsletters Wolf Bytes and Wolf Bits.

Institutional Investor magazine included Wolf among its “Home-Run Hitters of 2004,” analysts who had recommended the 10 top-performing stocks that year. He was selected for his buy recommendation on Apple, which tripled in price. From 1988 to 1993, Wolf was elected to the publication’s “All-American Research Team” for personal-computer makers, according to a biography on Needham’s website.

“Very few academicians I know could make it in this environment,” he said of his move from Columbia to Wall Street, according to a 1986 profile in the Wall Street Journal. “We have to respond instantly to news and be able to incorporate whatever that event is into our analysis. As academics, you just sit back and contemplate.”

Rare Adjustment

Though Wolf was generally bullish on Apple, from time to time he reined in his enthusiasm. In August 2013, he lowered his price target for the shares, citing a “more hostile competitive environment,” according to a Fortune article. The action carried more weight because Wolf rarely tweaked his estimates compared with other stock researchers, the magazine said.

“Some of his colleagues change their price targets with every shift in the prevailing wind and never offer more than a sentence or two by way of explanation,” Fortune said. “Not Charlie Wolf. He reviews his Apple price target only twice a year, in February and August.”

Wolf explained his adjustment in a 4,380-word report.

He began his career as an analyst in 1984, when he left Columbia University’s business school in New York, where he was a professor in the finance department, for the equity research division at First Boston Corp., according to the Needham bio. As a self-described “rookie analyst,” he started following Apple. At the time, the company was primarily a PC maker and it was the year before Apple ousted its co-founder, Steve Jobs, as chairman.

Fast Start

His first call as an analyst was a sell recommendation on Commodore International Ltd., an early PC maker. When the stock subsequently tanked, Wolf’s star rose.

“Like the aging baseball rookie in ‘The Natural,’ Charles R. Wolf came to Wall Street late in his career, but not too late to become a home run hitter,” the Journal said in its profile.

Wolf’s next big call, in April 1985, was a prescient buy recommendation on Apple when it traded at around a split-adjusted 38 cents a share. He remained enthusiastic about the company. It closed yesterday at $107.34.

His home office “looks like an Apple showroom,” his wife said in a telephone interview.

Charles Robert Wolf was born on Oct. 9, 1933, in Mason City, Iowa, to Harry Wolf and the former Mildred Rosenbaum, according to Marquis Who’s Who. His father was in the scrap metal business and his mother was a homemaker and pianist who made sure that Wolf took up the instrument, his wife said. As an adult, he entertained friends by playing ragtime.

Early Life

His hometown was the setting for “The Music Man,” the fictional Broadway musical and film by Mason City native Meredith Willson. Wolf often said he grew up in the “Pleez-All” pool hall that figures in the show’s plot, according to his wife.

He graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1955, according to Who’s Who. He worked as a portfolio manager at First Western Bank in San Francisco from 1956 to 1958, and later as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Wolf then enrolled in the Harvard Business School in Boston where he earned an MBA in 1960 and a doctorate in business administration in 1965.

The following year Wolf began his teaching career at Columbia.

He was the co-author of “The Role of Private Placements in Corporate Finance” (1972), with Eli Shapiro.

‘Real World’

Wolf encouraged his finance students to do internships at Wall Street firms, and after taking a leave of absence to work in what he called “the real world,” he got hooked too.

During his tenure at First Boston (today’s Credit Suisse Group AG), Wolf wrote about the economic value added approach to stock analysis and spent three years managing the firm’s program for new analysts, according to his Needham bio.

From 1998 to 2000, he worked at UBS Warburg Investment Bank (now Zurich-based UBS AG) and, starting in 2000, at New York-based Needham.

His survivors include his wife of almost 23 years, the former Margot Koch; stepdaughter Alexandra Sitkoff; stepson Adam Sitkoff; and brother Ronald Wolf.

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Obits can be emailed to northiowatoday@gmail.com.

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Charlie was generous to his local synagogue the Ada’s Israel

My father went to this funeral. I had no idea as to his accomplishments and biography. Impressive.

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