B. Franklin Kahn, Founder
Born in Washington D.C. in 1925, I was the youngest of four children, a curious problem solver cum inventor. My father died when I was seven years old. As I was a slow learner, I tried harder, and I had confidence that any job was possible. Throughout my life I have been fortunate to have wonderful mentors, who encouraged and helped to develop my creativity.
At the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, my major was Finance. However, half of my graduation credits were an admixture of architecture, history, literature, English, economics, cost accounting and sociology. Within the Finance major, my concentration was business cycle stabilization. I deduced that many business cycles became roller coasters, because of such unforeseeable exogenous factors as wars and "acts of God," including hurricanes and famines. My conservatism springs from the belief that unpredictability throttles long-term projections.
As President of the University of Pennsylvania Debate Team, I founded a new regional league with Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Haverford, Princeton and other excellent nearby colleges. We were delighted when the Mayor of Philadelphia presented the new Benjamin Franklin Debate Conference with a sterling silver trophy.
Upon graduating in 1946 with a Bachelor of Science degree, my professor of Real Estate Investment invited me to return annually and to give Spring and Fall lectures and/or case method presentations in his class. Wharton School professors continued this invitation for forty-five years, during which I simultaneously sharpened my real estate investment skills in Washington, D.C.
Working with the Boston firm of Minot Dubois and Maddison (founded 1773), together we convinced Lyndon B. Johnson, then Majority Leader of the US Senate, to sponsor a new type of mutual fund, which substituted real estate equities for stocks and mortgage debt for bonds. The name Real Estate Investment Trusts was adopted. As soon as President John F. Kennedy signed the new REIT bill into law, I immediately convinced Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to enact identical legislation. In 1960 the Washington Real Estate Investment Trust was founded, the first REIT, dubbed WRIT.
In a thirty-five year odyssey between Washington, D.C., and the Wharton School, I taught the theoretical aspect, primarily with case method instruction, which posed "real life" questions in a Socratic atmosphere. WRIT both utilized students' analytical skills and recruited the brightest students from within the school. For thirty years I simultaneously taught at Wharton what I practiced at WRIT, and vice versa.
My radical ultra-conservative long-term investment strategy includes acquiring only investments with strong growth potential, paying off all debt, and a cheapskate's control of operating expenses. Resulting superior credit ratings and thirty consecutive years of increased earnings per share produced top stock price-earnings ratios. During three recessions, WRIT outgrew growth stocks, and cyclic gyrations were flattened into an upward long-term trend line.
In 1997, the National Institute of Mental Health Geriatric Psychiatry Section diagnosed me with early dementia. Their recommendation was, "Rekindle your creative mind. Use it or lose it." As the new millennium began in 2000, I reconvened Benjamin Franklin's Junto with several Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, and chairmen of the Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, National Institute of Mental Health, and the American Philosophical Society. The Junto's most important jobs are awarding the Laureate and Legacy Prizes and mentoring spectacular creativity among our youth.
I vividly remember at age 18 being awestruck as I walked through the University of Pennsylvania Hamilton Walk gates and read Virgil's words, "I will find a way or I will make one."
B. Franklin Kahn is Wharton Club of DC Alumni of the Month. Click here to read the article