A 99-year-old Wall Street veteran reveals the secrets of her success

Stralem & Co. Senior VP Irene Bergman.

As she nears 100, Irene Bergman has top tips for having a long career on Wall Street: Don\’t do anything stupid.

Consider investment returns, the financial adviser at Stralem & Co. said within an interview at her New York apartment, where, encompassed by paintings from Dutch masters, she telephones her clients. While many investors nowadays obsess over quick profits, it is best to wait at least three years, or better yet, many more, before evaluating holdings. But don\’t be afraid of revising your thesis, she said. If thorough research favours a portfolio shift, have courage making changes.

\”The longer you are in the business, the greater pessimistic you receive,\” Bergman said in her own soft voice, noting she currently thinks shares are extremely expensive. Still, \”I\’m capable of getting bullish, because when I look at a stock, I can imagine where it had been 40 years ago.\”

As one of the oldest working professionals within an industry run by men half her age, Bergman offers a rare perspective. She recalls the little private firms founded by German Jews of the 19th century that came to define Wall Street before their partnership model gave way to public listings, and honor succumbed to an ever-fiercer push for profit.

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\”The method of doing business is different,\” she said. \”It\’s much more competitive, much more knives-in-the-back.\”

Guests at Bergman\’s midtown Manhattan apartment, where she\’s lived in excess of 60 years, might be invited to sip a vodka or scotch, while seated on furniture crafted in Europe prior to the Second World War. The French Louis XV chairs are off-limits.

Four personal assistants attend to her needs night and day, and she calls on colleagues at New York-based Stralem including Chairman Hirschel Abelson when she needs research on particular securities. While she never married and doesn\’t have children, she does possess a Maltese named Fanny.

Her career would be a near-realization of a dream she had as a teenager. In an essay at the time, she wrote that they wanted to follow her father, a personal banker, to the Berlin Stock Exchange. He made that world seem so \”lively,\” she said. She\’d have been the first woman to attain that position.

Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

Those aspirations stalled once the Nazis chased her Jewish family from Germany after which Holland. They came to the U.S. In 1942, Bergman began being employed as a secretary in a bank. Fifteen years later, she joined Hallgarten & Co., part of the New York Stock market.

\”Women on Wall Street weren\’t very popular,\” she said. She\’d join Loeb Rhoades & Co., and in 1973, Stralem, where she finally felt like she belonged. \”This was the initial place where I had been treated like an equal.\”

Stralem oversees almost US$2 billion in assets and runs a strategy focused on identifying \”up-market\” and \”down-market\” stocks. It manages money for institutions and individual accounts, 11 which are Bergman\’s. She serves on its investment committee.

Apple was an excessive amount of for me

Bergman, who stopped going to the office in December and turns 100 in August, attributed her longevity to get affordable genes, no special diet. She said she stayed physically fit by riding dressage horses until she was 80 and mentally sharp by forgoing retirement. Bergman speaks with Stralem colleagues daily and talks with some clients each week.

\”She\’s been through multiple business cycles, good and the bad, recessions, depressions, and has a good feeling for where situations are going,\” said George Falk, a doctor of internal medicine in private practice in Manhattan. \”She understands what my needs are, has my interests at heart, and is not primarily interested in making a lot of money off of me. I\’ve got a great deal of rely upon her.\”

Bergman has Falk, 75, invested 100 percent in U.S. Treasuries.

Her family\’s post-war experience informs her advice today. Since it took ten years after coming to New York for Bergman to recover her family\’s wealth, that was frozen by U.S. and Dutch authorities, she emphasizes the importance of safeguarding funds.