What the pair, who lunch together at least twice a month, have in common at the core are their roots in Washington Heights. When they were coming of age, this blue-collar enclave of parks and stunning riverside vistas, populated by Irish and German-Jewish immigrants (many of the latter refugees from Nazi Germany), was beginning to succumb to urban decay. By the 1970s, when Dubin and Swieca were in high school, the Heights was chiefly known for being the birthplace of graffiti -- popularized by neighborhood figures like "Taki 183," who lived on 183rd Street and whose ubiquitous scrawled signatures symbolized New York City's blight to many. By the 1980s, long after most of the Irish and the German Jews had fled, the Heights had become the crack cocaine center of New York City.
In this deteriorating environment, the two grew up striving, in the New York version of the classic American dream, for something better -- beyond the confines of the old neighborhood. Not that they ever left the Heights completely behind; elements of the old neighborhood remain with them, indelible as graffiti, in everything from the names of their funds to their outlook on life. "Growing up in a working-class family and neighborhood instilled important values and made me ambitious," says Dubin, who is of Russian and Austrian Jewish descent.
His U.S.-born father labored for most of his life as a taxi driver until he went to work with Dubin's uncle, a dress manufacturer. Dubin's mother, an émigré from Austria, was a homemaker. Swieca's parents were Polish Holocaust survivors who emigrated to the U.S. from France in 1955. His father, an accountant, gave Henry an appreciation of classical music (and a dislike of accounting). His parents' wartime experience fostered his interest in history.
Before they'd even reached their teens Dubin and Swieca took part-time jobs, the former scaling fish at Frank's Fish Market in the neighborhood, the latter cleaning shelves at the bookstore in the Port Authority George Washington Bridge bus terminal at 178th Street. "We were always commercially driven," says Dubin. But they had lots of other interests as well. Dubin, for instance, learned to play the guitar; Swieca, who used to blast the Rolling Stones from his room, notes dryly, "I played the harmonica."
Dubin captained the football and wrestling teams at Kennedy High and later the football squad at Stony Brook as a running back and outside linebacker. At the same time, he edited the college newspaper. "Competing in sports has been a very important part of my life," he says. "I'm competitive, driven and focused." Tennis opponents like his good friend Paul Tudor Jones II, the famous founder of hedge fund Tudor Investment Corp., might well attest to that. "He's only beaten me once in 20 years," Dubin reports.
Swieca, by contrast, was the nonathlete. He remembers once refusing to follow Dubin on a physically demanding and precarious climb up steep ledges at Fort Tryon Park. "I thought the risk-reward wasn't good," says Swieca, smiling. "Glenn was more of a risk taker." Besides, he adds, "my mother would have killed me."
Tragedy struck the Swieca family when Henry was off at college. In 1976, when he was 19, his mother died of Lou Gehrig's disease, and six months later his father died of a heart attack. Dubin's parents welcomed Swieca into their home, where he often stayed during college breaks. "He essentially became part of the family," Dubin recalls.
Swieca met his future wife, Estee Tobaly, through Dubin; she was a friend of a girl that Dubin was dating. The Swiecas today have four children. It was Estee who proposed that Dubin and Swieca go into business together. Dubin eventually married a former Miss Sweden and Ford model, Eva Andersson, who is a corporate physician. She and Dubin have three children.
Upon graduating from Stony Brook -- Dubin in 1978 with a degree in economics and Swieca in 1979 with a degree in economics and French -- they both became stockbrokers. Dubin joined E.F. Hutton & Co.; Swieca, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inspired by his dentist uncle, a stock market investor, Swieca had been trading the $50,000 he'd inherited from his parents since his senior year in college. He later used Dubin as his broker. "He wouldn't pay any commissions," Dubin says. "He still dislikes paying commissions."
Swieca made a tidy profit on South African gold mine stocks during the inflationary upsurge of the late 1970s. He used part of the money to send his younger brother to medical school. "I bought heavily on margin," he recalls. He quit Merrill after two years to enroll at Columbia Business School.