The Professional Person

Elbert Parr Tuttle was the chief justice of the federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1960-67.

January 13, 2020

Judge Elbert Parr Tuttle was a giant of the judicial world, especially as the Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit during the Civil Rights Movement. I had the great privilege of working with him as a client and will never forget asking him at our first meeting what his approach to investing was. Age 95, his response was classic: “I think we should buy growth stocks for the long haul.” I always enjoyed this quote as it not only parallels Warren Buffett’s saying “when I buy a stock I plan to own it forever” but it also epitomizes the axiom that a portfolio should outlive the owner no matter what age you are!

Another quote that I have treasured all these decades comes from Judge Tuttle’s commencement speech entitled “Heroism in War and Peace,” given at Emory University on June 8th, 1957, coincidentally the year I was born. This week I thought it appropriate to share it here as we all begin a new year.

The professional [person] is in essence one who provides service. But the service [they] render is something more than that of the laborer, even the skilled laborer. It is a service that wells up from the entire complex of [their] personality. True, some specialized and highly developed techniques may be included, but their mode of expression is given its deepest meaning by the personality of the practitioner. In a very real sense [their] professional service cannot be separate from [their] personal being. [They] have no goods to sell, no land to till. [Their] only asset is [themselves]. It turns out that there is no right price for service, for what is a share of a man worth? If he does not contain the quality of integrity, [they] are worthless. If [they] do, [they] are priceless. The value is either nothing or it is infinite. So, do not try to set a price on yourselves. Do not measure out your professional services on an apothecaries’ scale and say, “Only this for so much.” Do not debase yourselves by equating your souls to what they will bring in the market. Do not be a miser, hoarding your talents and abilities and knowledge, either among yourselves or in your dealings with your clients . . . Rather be reckless and spendthrift, pouring out your talent to all to whom it can be of service! Throw it away, waste it, and in the spending, it will be increased. Do not keep a watchful eye lest you slip and give away a little bit of what you might have sold. Do not censor your thoughts to gain a wide audience. Like love, talent is only useful in its expenditure, and it is never exhausted. Certain it is that a [person] must eat; so, set what price you must on your service. But never confuse the performance, which is great, with the compensation, be it money, power, or fame, which is trivial.

Nick Hoffman