Umbrellas to Billionaires — the Life of Jim Maguire
The guy traveled a long way from his first job as an umbrella boy at the Monmouth Beach Club. James J. Maguire, Sr., who became a Wall Street legend, always considered himself a “regular guy.” God called Jim home in August 2017 at the age of 86. He leaves behind a legion of admirers and a life well lived. One worth remembering.
When Jim died CNBC called him “one of the great titans of the New York Stock Exchange floor” and offered that he was “widely respected for his wit, wisdom and leadership.” The highlight of Jim’s illustrious business career included a long professional and personal relationship with Warren Buffett — “America’s Greatest Investor” has a net worth over $100 billion. Buffett often referred to Jim as the “World’s Greatest Specialist.”
During a past interview I did with Jim he said the Monmouth Beach Club was a “large part” of his life. His first job, for which he “had to fight,” was a club umbrella boy for Summer 1945. The pay was $16.20 per week. “I remember working hard but always loving it,” he said. “They were such great times. I met so many fine people and leaned so much.” A former club president and always club activist (from winning the club’s tennis championship at age 13 to pushing for facility improvements), Jim said the spot was a “vital factor” in his development as a young man.
In September 1949, after working five summers at the club, he began his Wall Street career as a clerk. At first “overwhelmed” by the experience, with encouragement, hard work and time, he gained knowledge and then excellence. He never had a day of college and still went on to become a Fordham University adjunct professor.
His Wall Street colleagues called Jim “Chief” — for his ability to get along with others and get things done. He first met Buffet in the summer of 1988, a year after the Crash of 1987 (the worst market decline in all US securities history), when the super investor was looking for a bigger market for his Berkshire Hathaway stock. As a stock specialist on the New York Stock Exchange, Jim explained, “it was my job to make a public market for him and others.”
On his connection with Buffett, Jim said it was a phone call “out of nowhere. I was told he did his research, was a careful person, and very particular about who handles his business. I suppose he thought I was capable.” When Jim was told the stock was high priced (then trading at $4,700 per share), he first thought it was a relation to singing star Jimmy Buffett. “I didn’t think there was that much money in music,” he first remarked. After doing his own research, Jim took on the task as the market maker for the ultimate “blue chip” stock. Jim told me that Buffett, known as the Oracle of Omaha for his legendary business prowess, was just “a regular guy.” Jim called him very witty, loyal, not at all pompous, and generally undemanding, “although I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of a bargaining table with him.”
Since Buffett started his investment holding company Berkshire Hathaway (originally a Massachusetts textile firm) in 1965, a $1,000 investment in the stock would be worth over $25 million today. According to the Wall Street Journal, “unlike more speculative investors who buy and sell stocks based on short-term news and goals, Berkshire shareholders are the classic buy-and-hold investors: Rarely do they sell their shares except to fund their retirement or pay for college” Buffett has pledge to give away 99% of his wealth. As of 2023, his $55 billion in charity makes him “America’s Most Generous Giver,” according to Forbes.
“Monmouth Beach values endure.”
—James J. Maguire
From the business association Jim said, “a lasting friendship was born” and the two men talked every month. “He’s just a very decent guy, but he does steal my jokes,” Jim said. He and his wife, Diane, would often attend Berkshire Hathaway annual meetings, where Buffett assumes a “rock star” status. In later years, he visited Buffet for quiet annual lunches in Nebraska, where the billionaire works and lives in a modest office and home, Jim said. Jim also said that former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were “good friends.”
His outlook on life was wise: “I don’t think I’ve worked a day in my life,” Jim explained. “I enjoy interacting with all people and have strive for humility all my life. I’m forever thankful for being blessed with two exceptional parents whose example and wisdom have formed the bedrock of my personality. And although my wife, Diane, and I are compete opposites, she is my love and my life.”
In 1972, while working at a firm associated with the American Stock Exchange, Jim was asked to be a partner at Henderson Brothers, a leading family-run NYC specialist firm for the New York Stock Exchange. “That was the most fortunate day of my business career,” JIm said, “when Charles and Peter Henderson invited me to become a partner. Without their enduring support and confidence, my Wall Street accomplishments would have been markedly limited. Back then I didn’t have money, ability, or product, but I could talk and that’s what they wanted.” He laid out $190,000 for a seat on the NYSE, worked hard, and ultimately became the firm’s chairman. In 2000, the firm was sold to LaBranche & Company for $230 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The Maguire family first arrived in town in 1927, when Jim’s father, Frank, rented a summerhouse. “Monmouth Beach is my home,” Jim explained. “It’s a world class place. There’s nothing like it — and I’ve been around the world. Monmouth Beach values endure. The quality of the residents is always outstanding.” During his Wall Street years, Jim and his wife (“she’s been the guiding light in my life,” he said) would spend about four months of the year in Monmouth Beach and the rest at their home in Short Hills, NJ.
Born in South Orange, NJ on October 13, 1930, Jim and his family rented various homes in town until St. Patrick’s Day 1943. “With a war raging around the globe, my dad came home that night and told us we were now the proud owners of a house in Monmouth Beach,” Jim explained. “Mom was a little worried but we kids recall it as one of the happiest days in our life.”
Purchased for $5,000 — with some unusual financing, Jim said — the Club Circle home was the center of the Maguire universe. One of 9 siblings, Jim said “we lived like millionaires and really didn’t have much. Dad was a hard worker (the Jersey City native was employed in the textiles business in NYC), but money was hard to come by back then. We were always a very happy family, though. The highlight was coming to the shore for the summer. Dad loved Monmouth Beach so much.” His father, who died in March 1975, was the “best man I ever knew,” said Jim.
In 1967, Jim bought his own home in Monmouth Beach, also in the Club Circle area (on River Avenue), for $15,000. Thanks to several additions through the years he raised six children there: James, Jr., Liz, Michael, Regina, Paul, and Mary (and 22 grandchildren). During his working years when he stayed in Monmouth Beach, Jim would rise each day before dawn, get to the city by the Highlands ferry, and then walk to the stock exchange. For over 60 years, he mostly kept that schedule until retiring in October 2012.