David Rolfe’s introduction to portfolio management came after a rocky start at the University of Missouri in 1980. Many students “went to the big party school, and they would come home with their tail between their legs,” recalls Rolfe, now 52.
Count Rolfe among them.
Having washed out as an engineering student, Rolfe returned home and re-enrolled at the university’s St. Louis campus, switching his focus to finance and economics. Rolfe signed up for an investing class, “and I was hooked the very first day,” he says.
Thirty years later, Rolfe is now running $7.7 billion as the chief investment officer of Wedgewood Partners, a suburban St. Louis asset manager. The firm subadvises theRiverPark/Wedgewood Retail fund (ticker: RWGFX), a $1.5 billion large-company growth fund.
Rolfe hews to an investment philosophy that he began early in his career, managing money at a trust bank in St. Louis: He likes a very concentrated portfolio, now 21 holdings; low turnover, 20% last year; and above-average earnings growth without above-average pricing. Add to that a contrarian streak, such as making Apple(AAPL) the fund’s second-largest holding at a time when many growth managers have thrown in the towel on that stock.
The large growth-stock sector is a tough place in which to shine, given how many analysts and money managers follow these companies. But Rolfe “knows he’s trafficking in an efficient, competitive space, and that he might not be able to out-trade, out-analyze” or get more information than some investors do, says Daniel Culloton, associate director of fund analysis at Morningstar. “But he can outwait people, focus on a small subset of companies, try to buy them at an inefficient price, and hold them for a long time.” And that is what Rolfe does, with good results.