The world is his Big Apple
Martin McKerrow has been around the world and back to the city he calls home
C hicago, London, New York, Paris--an assortment of great cities, which, with the humble village of Gambier, have shaped the life of Martin McKerrow '64. And these are just the ones in which he has lived. A traveler to forty countries on every continent, McKerrow has sampled the cultures of the world and incorporated them into his perspective on life.
As co-director of fixed-income management for the investment firm of Neuberger and Berman, a money management firm that is one of the last big partnerships on Wall Street, McKerrow has been able to combine his love for travel with his job . He and Toni, his wife of thirty-one years, piggyback long weekends of skiing or visiting friends and family onto his business trips.
In his office at East 39th Street and Third Avenue in New York City, the walls are covered with large photographs McKerrow has taken of scenic places in Europe, marine photos reflecting his love of the sea, and family photos depicting memorable moments, rites of passage, special people: a son's first-caught fish, another son's engagement, parents now deceased. Among the other conversation pieces, an Air France route map from 1959 depicts a world without Australia.
As the quintessential liberal-arts graduate, for whom learning is a lifelong process, McKerrow is still hungry to visit the remote places of the world and to experience them before, as he puts it, "the whole planet is like America." "French kids are very American these days," he says. "And, in China recently I saw a Chinese youth at the Great Wall with a San Jose Sharks hat on. The pace of change is just too rapid."
Born in London during World War II, McKerrow emigrated to the United States in the early 1950s when he was nine years old. His family settled in the Chicago area, where he attended the local public schools. As the time for college approached, he became interested in attending a small men's college, and his older sister, who was at Lake Erie College for Women, told him about Kenyon. "I was intimidated by the idea of meeting students from eastern preparatory schools," he recalls. "I felt that Ohio was about as far east as I dared to go.
"My first year was very tough," he says. "I think it was the extraordinary amount of freedom that I was unaccustomed to." Originally intending to major in mathematics or science, McKerrow had his "great awakening" one day in calculus class. "I was able to get all the correct answers to the problems, but I didn't know why," he remembers. "I've always loved to read, so I began to take classes in Greek literature, history, and English."
Finally choosing an English major, McKerrow thoroughly enjoyed everything about the process of learning to read thoughtfully and write well. "Whenever I look back on my days at Kenyon, and I do it with some frequency, I consider them some of the most important of my life," he says. "It was at Kenyon that I acquired skills and habits of mind that have never failed me in the business world."
Business school seemed like a logical next step, and McKerrow, fortified by his four years at Kenyon and no longer afraid of "the East," believed he was up to the challenge of tackling life in New York City. He enrolled at Columbia University and rented an apartment in Greenwich Village. An international business major, he found he had some gift for financial analysis (his mathematical background wasn't a complete waste) and, upon graduation in June 1966, he took a job with Standard Oil of New Jersey, now Exxon Corporation. That year also included such momentous events as becoming an American citizen in April, marrying Toni Bornmann immediately after graduation, and serving a six-month tour of duty with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.
Following his reserve duty, McKerrow was given his first taste of the investment side of the business at Standard Oil. Finding it to his liking, he soon moved into a sales position with another firm.
For eight years, McKerrow plied his trade as a securities salesman for various companies, finally deciding to return to the financial management end of the business. He signed on with A.G. Becker in 1976 as a financial consultant. Once again, his liberal-arts education was his foundation. "A Kenyon education enhances your verbal skills and teaches you how to think on your feet," he says. "A lot of investment people are not good communicators. At Becker, I was able to use my writing and analytical skills, and I was very happy there." In the mid-1980s, however, Becker was sold to a private concern that, in McKerrow's opinion, "was not very client oriented. They seemed only to be interested in earnings per share." And that was when he found Neuberger.
Neuberger and Berman was co-founded in 1939 by Roy Neuberger, a renowned investor and art collector who has retired from management of the firm but retains the title of senior principal. He still shows up at the office almost daily. Neuberger is now ninety-four years old; his cofounder, Robert Berman, died decades ago.
"Mr. Neuberger is an amazing man," says McKerrow. "One can't help but admire him. His art collection, now housed in its own museum at the State University of New York at Purchase, is something to behold."
Whether it was Neuberger's artistic sensibility or the firm's devotion to client service, McKerrow found a style of business in this cosmopolitan firm that was compatible with his own intellect.
In 1992, McKerrow was asked to move to Paris, where Neuberger and Berman was undertaking a joint venture with Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP). He eagerly embraced the opportunity. "Our kids were grown and on their own; my wife, Toni, my best friend and companion for twenty-four years [they celebrate thirty-one years together this year], spoke reasonable French; it just seemed like an ideal chance to live life from a new perspective," he says.
For three years, the McKerrows enjoyed the life of corporate expatriots, immersing themselves in the culture of France, taking every opportunity to travel in Europe and farther afield, and feeling pride in the accomplishment of overcoming communication barriers and establishing friendships. "The entire nature of friendship is different in Europe," observes McKerrow. "People have many acquaintances, but true friendships develop very slowly, and they go very deep."
By 1995, it was clear there was no structure for the long-term success of the Neuberger-BNP venture, and it was terminated. The McKerrows returned, rather reluctantly, to New York. "We decided to live in the city because everything is so accessible and it is very convenient to work," says McKerrow. "But sometimes, on a really beautiful day, a walk in Central Park just doesn't seem enough.
"On the other hand," he observes, "we do still love to travel, and it is admittedly much easier to leave an apartment than it would be a house."
If one asks Martin McKerrow if he has regrets, he is quick to reply that you can't change the past, so regrets are a waste of time. He is, however, thinking increasingly about the future and retirement.
"My job is very demanding and client driven," he says. "I often have to cancel personal plans at the last minute to attend to business. I think a lot about how much longer I want to do this and at what point I want to be able to give more of myself to the things that are waiting."
Among those things awaiting his attention is volunteer work with the groups that support the cultural activities that he and Toni so enjoy. It is likely that McKerrow's retirement will be a further reflection of his passion for the life of the mind.
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