Lawrence, NY – A recent New York Times article posed the following question to the gold winners at this year’s Olympics: Where do you go once you’ve got the gold medal? What next after you’ve managed to hit the dream?
The same question, albeit in a nonsporting context, could be posed to Morris Smith, a 51-year-old Lawrence resident and former head of the Magellan Fund. The answer in Smith’s mind seems to be: only upward. “I’ve never viewed it as a peak,” he said during a recent interview, conducted over the phone while he was driving. “From the perspective of managing money, I accomplished my goals. It isn’t the end-purpose in life. There are a lot of other things out there.”
Smith took over the Magellan Fund in 1990 from Magellan Fund stalwart Peter Lynch. Under Lynch’s tenure, the fund had become America’s premier mutual fund, shooting up from $20 million under anagement to $13 billion. During Smith’s two-year tenure, the fund nearly doubled in value to $20 billion. Smith retired in 1992 to focus on, as Wikipedia puts it, “a religious lifestyle.” After his retirement, he spent a few years learning in Israel and returned to New York in 1999. He gets up every morning at 3:30 a.m., learns for most of the day, does some outside consulting work, and spends time with his five children and his grandchildren (he says it’s a lucky day when he gets a nap).
He was also involved in Yeshiva Darchei Torah’s $30 million financing agreement, helping to arrange low-interest, tax-exempt NYC Industrial Development Authority bonds, which paid off $7 million in old debt and will guarantee cash flow during the school’s construction.
Smith’s proudest public accomplishment since leaving the Magellan Fund is The Torah Conferencing Network, a system of sites that transmit 50 to 60 shiurim every year by popular lecturers like Rabbi Yissacher Frand, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman and Shira Smiles. The shiurim are made available to local organizations for a fee; a fee that, thanks to a move from satellite to Internet technologies, is steadily decreasing. Since its inception five years ago, the network has driven down cost from $125 for an hour of programming to roughly $9 per hour. “I think that someone who’s interested in growing can do it on a global network,” Smith said.
He credits the success of the network — which, unlike most non-profits, is safely in the black — to a dedicated and hardworking staff. Lectures are now being broadcast in over 90 sites, including Amsterdam, Australia and South Africa, with 10 sites just in New Jersey. Average programming for the network runs to 20 hours per month and, according to Smith, is constantly expanding.
In conversation Smith exudes a sheepish sense of selfexamining modesty. He says the most valuable lesson he’s learned is to stay focused on a single goal, be it at the top of a financial empire or in a Beis Medrash.
In terms of other goals for the uber-financier-turnedglobal- Torah-network-executive? “I just try to be as good a person in this world as possible,” he said before cutting the interview short to pick up his mother before Shabbat.