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Hall of Fame 3 - Joseph Ellis

The best part of being an analyst, according to Joseph Ellis, is that the job draws on “many different skill sets in varying situations.” The multifaceted Ellis would know: Not only did he appear on the All-­America Research Team 29 times in 23 years — solid evidence of his skills in that arena — he also launched his own chain of specialty stores and published a book about miniature bird carvings. The 69-year-old clearly believes in the importance of developing ideas and skills into their most practical applications, an attribute that benefited his many clients over the years. Ellis joined the Bank of New York in 1965 after earning a bachelor’s degree at Columbia University; five years later he took a job at Goldman, Sachs & Co. covering retailers. One of the most important ways in which he drove his franchise was by attending to the presentation of his analysis. “I found most economists’ forecasts to be unhelpful, particularly given their constant changing from one anecdotal indicator to another, without a clearly defined process,” he says. In the mid-1970s he developed a method for tracking economic data that made it possible to see trends develop, to focus on true leading indicators and, with simple charts, to explain them to clients. (In 2005, Harvard Business School Press published his book Ahead of the Curve: A ­Commonsense Guide to ­Forecasting Business and ­Market Cycles, which lays out the fundamentals of his ­process.) When the All-America Research Team debuted, in 1972, Ellis was on it, as a runner-up in Retailing. By 1977 he had climbed to the top of the roster, and there he stayed until 1992. When Retailing/Specialty was carved out of the sector, in 1988, Ellis ranked in that one too. When we made further refinements, in the ‘90s, dividing the more general sector into Broadlines and ­Softlines, Ellis appeared on both lists — while continuing to rank in Retailing/Specialty. Over the course of his remarkable career, he finished in first place 19 times. Ellis left his full-time position at Goldman in 1994, working part-time until his official retirement in 2005. By then he had launched Blue Tulip, the gifts-and-­paper specialty store that he started in 2001. Despite the fact that the chain grew to 24 stores, Blue Tulip filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. Ellis attributes the store’s demise to his inability to find a head merchant. In retirement, Ellis has become an avid birdwatcher and gardener, and has parlayed his favorite hobby — collecting miniature bird carvings — into a full-blown project: In 2009 the University Press of New England published his Birds in Wood and Paint: ­American Miniature Bird ­Carvings and Their Carvers, 1900–1970. The skill sets that Ellis actively draws on remain as varied as ever.

— KATIE GILBERT

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