Remembering pioneering investor Bill Hurt

Bill Hurt, a guiding light throughout his nearly half-century career at Capital Group, passed away on September 2 at age 94. He spent the bulk of his time at Capital Group Private Client Services and left an indelible mark that lives on in the generation of associates he mentored. 

One of the hallmarks of Capital Group is a team approach in which analysts and portfolio managers work together — not only collaborating on research and exchanging investment ideas but providing guidance, support and genuine friendship. No one embodied those principles more than Bill Hurt.

He devoted enormous time to coaching associates. Thanks to insights gleaned from decades of experience, he helped scores of younger professionals fine-tune their investment instincts. Just as important, Bill passed down the Capital Group culture of integrity, teamwork and always doing what’s right for the client.

“Bill was the most impactful person at Capital in terms of how I invest, how I think, how I parent,” says Alan Wilson, a Capital Group portfolio manager. “He was a honeybee, a cross-pollinator going from flower to flower. No one knew more people, inside and outside of the organization, and no one was making more connections. He brought a rich diversity of perspective.”

Bill went out of his way to meet newcomers across the company, inviting people of all ages, job titles and experience levels to lunch. He scripted countless notes to young analysts praising their work. He shared his approach to investing, explaining how he parsed financial statements and scrutinized a company’s management and long-term prospects. And he never hesitated to pass along random thoughts in phone calls and impromptu hallway chats.

“Whenever my phone rang and his initials flashed on the display, I knew I was about to receive wisdom born of a gentle soul and an endlessly curious mind,” says John Armour, president of Capital Group Private Client Services.

He honed his investment ideas over a lifetime.

Bill started his career in 1951 at Dean Witter & Co. and began attending Analyst Society meetings in Los Angeles. In a twist of serendipity, those meetings were also frequented by Capital Group’s Jon Lovelace and Marjorie Fisher, as well as associates-to-be Bill Newton and Bob Kirby. The group began having lunch every few weeks.

When Bill left Dean Witter in 1971, Lovelace offered him a job. In September 1983, he took on investment management responsibilities for Capital Group Private Client Services, where he served as a global equity portfolio manager until 2014. He retired in 2019.

“Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill laid the cornerstones that have allowed Capital Group Private Client Services to flourish,” Armour says. “He was an enormously gifted investor who never lost sight of the fact that he was managing real money for real people. He took our responsibilities to clients very seriously.”

He connected people and ideas throughout the organization.

Bill cut a memorable figure in the Los Angeles office. He worked out daily and was often spotted walking up the escalators or taking the stairs two at a time, even into his 90s. When colleagues struggled to match his pace, Bill told them he’d bounded three steps at a time when he was younger.

He cottoned to new ideas and emerging trends. He fashioned a stand-up desk before they became fashionable. Once, while explaining 1920s music to a colleague’s daughter, he amazed the teenager by turning to his digital device and saying, “Alexa, play Sophie Tucker.”

But his most lasting impact was his personal touch as a self-described “people person.” 

Ted Samuels, a retired Capital Group Private Client Services portfolio manager, invoked a famous mentor to describe his colleague.

“Little did I know … that I would have the distinct honor of sitting next to and learning from Capital’s Yoda for 17 years,” Samuels wrote in 2012. “Diminutive in stature, elliptical in speech, profound in thought and invincible in attitude. … And yes, he clearly has the Force.”

A native Angeleno, he also made a mark in philanthropy.

Born in 1927 and raised on the South Side of Los Angeles, Bill delivered newspapers on Olympic Boulevard at 14; later, he delivered packages in his 1938 Ford. He also spent a summer as a caddy at Wilshire Country Club. 

“I learned about life as a 14-year-old enduring the ordeal of making a living awaking at 4:30 a.m. to wrap and deliver 100 papers by 6 a.m., earning a penny each,” Bill wrote in one of his more than 3,400 internal research pieces. “Then as a 125-pound 15-year-old caddy carrying a double for $3 with no tip. Is it any wonder I never took up golf?”

He graduated early from high school to get a year of college under his belt before joining the U.S. Navy. He later earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California, graduating magna cum laude in 1949, followed by years at Harvard, where he graduated with an MBA.

Later in life, Bill would champion many philanthropic causes. He served as a director of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for more than 25 years and as an honorary director until his passing. In 2014, he and his wife, Sally, were celebrated with the organization’s Courage to Care Award. Bill also served on the Board of Leaders of the USC Marshall School of Business and was involved with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Committee on Foreign Relations and the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. In 1961, he started the WHH Foundation to encourage his children, and eventually his grandchildren, to give back to their communities.

One of Bill’s final philanthropic gifts was to Caltech — a gift that underscored his relentless optimism and belief in the power of collaboration. He wanted the school to recruit highly talented people from across academic disciplines so that they could cross-fertilize without having a specific outcome in mind. By putting smart people together, Bill believed, good things would come.

“I think the world has never been in better shape, and the U.S. in particular has never been in better shape,” Bill commented in 2019. “That might seem to be at odds with some of the current headlines and challenges we face. But the world has shown throughout my lifetime that it is complex and adaptive. It is continually undergoing self-correcting transformations. To put it another way, daily existence is improving around the globe. We’ve never been better off than we are right now and never had so many opportunities.”

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