Robert W. “Bob” Chamberlin, who was among the first generation of full-time municipal bond analysts, died last week. He was 74.
Mr. Chamberlin, who spent more than three decades at Dean Witter, developed an expertise for muni bond credit analysis and an understanding of complex muni strategies for portfolio diversification for the firm’s vast retail network.
But for those who worked with him and learned the business from him, it was his strong convictions and interest in being a mentor to young analysts in the business that left a mark as permanent as his market expertise.
“He was a great teacher and a mentor who definitely had an interest in you personally, and in your growth,” said Mark Tenenhaus, a director of research at RSW Investments, an asset management firm with $1.4 billion of municipal bonds under management.
Tenenhaus worked with Mr. Chamberlin at Dean Witter for 10 years, and stayed in touch with him for some time after the latter retired. Mr. Chamberlin’s lessons and example set a course Tenenhaus followed.
“When I look at my own career, in a lot of ways I followed him,” Tenenhaus said of Mr. Chamberlin. “I worked on the buy-side, the sell-side. I was a banker. I worked for an insurance company, at a rating agency, and I’m back on the buy-side. A lot of that skill set came from his teaching. Bob was such a well-versed guy.”
Mr. Chamberlin retired in 1997 as senior vice president and director of municipal research at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. after a 34-year career. He was named Analyst of the Year in 1993 by the National Federation of Municipal Analysts.
Mr. Chamberlin was also active with the Municipal Analysts Group of New York, and was chairman in 1970 and 1971.
While working at Dean Witter, Mr. Chamberlin studied the muni market from an analytical, credit and marketing point of view, Tenenhaus said. And he developed a firm understanding of municipal bond strategy.
“A lot of his strengths were in his ability to take what people consider complex strategies for portfolio diversification — premium bonds versus discount bonds, and so forth — and relay it to the retail system in a way they could understand it,” Tenenhaus said. “He wasn’t just a numbers guy. He understood markets and spreads and why to buy a certain type of bond versus another type of bond. He was probably one of the first guys in the profession that could do that and combine it with the credit aspects.”
John Dillon, chief municipal bond strategist at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, worked with Mr. Chamberlin in the late 1990s. He remembers him as a man who was rigid when it came to procedure, but adaptable enough to change with the times and technology.
“He put a major emphasis on good- old-fashioned credit work, which is interesting, because we’ve come full circle and we’re back to credit work in earnest today,” Dillon said.
Mr. Chamberlin loved the purpose of municipal bonds — the civic angle, where the money went to work, Dillon added. And he appreciated that the industry was a relatively clean one in terms of defaults.
“Basically, your word was your bond,” Dillon said. “And that’s how he operated. He was never shy, never afraid to be heard, even if he was taking the opposite side of the consensus. That’s a good learning experience to someone relatively new to the business.”
Mr. Chamberlin lived most of his life in Ridgewood, N.J. He graduated from Princeton University in 1957 and received a master’s degree from Cornell University in 1963, according to his obituary in the Record/Herald News.
Mr. Chamberlin served two years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force as special investigator.
The family will hold a memorial service at West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, N.J., at 1 p.m. on June 23. Memorial donations can be made to Community Meals on Wheels, at 105 Cottage Place, Ridgewood, N.J., 07450.