Ruth Holmberg Arts Leadership Award winners
Mai Bell Hurley: 2015
Fletcher Bright: 2016
Sonia Young: 2017
Alice L. Smith and Booker T. Scruggs II: 2018
Warren Barnett: 2019
As a 12-year-old newspaper carrier in central Indiana in the 1960s, Warren Barnett would deliver a copy of the final blue streak edition of Indianapolis News every day to one of the retirees on his route and pick up a used copy of that day's Wall Street Journal from the customer.
"At night, I would read the Wall Street Journal because I was fascinated by what makes stocks and businesses go up and down," Barnett recalls.
More than a half century later, the 68-year-old investment advisor is still studying and analyzing the markets. The business he started in Chattanooga 35 years ago, Barnett & Co., has grown to become the seventh biggest investment advisory firm in Chattanooga with nearly $290 million of assets under management.
Like the famed investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, Barnett believes in value investing and finding successful investments overlooked by others.
"Sometimes people mistake my name for Warren Buffett," Barnett says. "I always take that as a real compliment."
Markets are volatile and picking the right investments is a daunting task, especially in the short term. But Barnett has long demonstrated his willingness to do the work and stick with it for the long term.
"It takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to be a contrarian investor," he says of his investment approach. "You don't want the guy who was class president to manage your money because it's not the kind of job that you get a lot of adulation from the crowds all the time. You spend a lot of time betting against the crowd and trying to figure out where they misperceive the market."
But Barnett has spent most of his life defying the odds. He overcame a disabling illness when he got the mumps and then the measles at age 6 and suffered the loss of most of his hearing. Barnett stayed in Indianapolis public schools after his illness and learned to read lips in a special education course but remained integrated in a similar course of study as most students.
"My parents were afraid if I went to a school for the deaf, I would end up making brooms or some other menial task," Barnett says.
Barnett ultimately got a Chochlear Implant to improve his hearing at age 55 in one of his ears and, after battling with a health insurance for months, got a second implant to further improve his hearing.
Barnett at a glance
Education: A graduate of McCallie School, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and an MBA graduate of Vanderbilt University. He is a certified financial planner
Career: After working the newspaper industry in his youth and young adult life, Barnett joined Kidder Peabody and then Davidge & Co. in Washington D.C. before returning to Chattanooga and working in the trust department of American National Bank. He started his own investment advisory company, Barnett & Co., in 1983.
Civic boards: He has served as chairman or president of the Hearing Loss Association of America, WTCI-TV, the Association of Visual Arts, Chattanooga Theater Center and Let Them Hear! Barnett is a member of the Rotary Club and an avid supporter of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera (CSO) and sponsor of the CSO Masterwork Series and is a contributor to the Friends of Chickamauga, Cornerstones, History Center, Hunter Museum, and Tennessee Aquarium, among others.
As a hard-of-hearing student in his youth, Barnett spent a lot of time reading and studying. When at age 15 he moved back to Chattanooga where he had been born, he went to the McCallie School, graduated in three years and then went to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Barnett worked briefly in the circulation departments for both The Chattanooga Times and later the Wall Street Journal before going to Vanderbilt University to get a master's degree in business administration. With an MBA in finance, Barnett joined Kidder Peabody in Washington D.C. in 1978 and worked at the global brokerage firm for a year and a half under three different managers before deciding he wanted to join a smaller, more focused financial advisory firm known as Davidge & Co.
Barnett returned to his native Chattanooga after his father died to help his mother sell his father's estate and he joined the trust department of the former American National Bank in Chattanooga, shortly before the bank was taken over by Third National Bank. A year later in November 1983, Barnett & Co. was started.
During the first few years, Barnett concedes getting his business going was a struggle and he had to put part of his salary back into the buisiness. But over time, Barnett's company has grown to a staff of nine. He wants to eventually sell the business over time as he retires.
For now, Barnett remains active as the company's president and as a civic and philanthropic leader in the commmnity.
Over the years, Barnett & Co. has donated to many non-profit institutions, but Barnett has focused much of the firm's sponsorships on the arts which he believes are both beneficial to the community and offer networking contacts valuable for his investment firm. Barnett has been a sponsor for the Association of Visual Arts' annual 4 Bridges Arts Festival, and the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's Masterworks Series. Arts organizations such as the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, and more than a dozen others, have received funding from Barnett.
For his donations, Barnett was named "Chattanooga Philanthropist of the Year" in 2015 at the Association of Fundraising Professionals' National Philanthropy Day Luncheon. In March, 2019, Barnett was recognized as only the sixth recipient of the Ruth Holmberg Arts Leadership Award given annually to leaders in the local arts community.
He concedes he can't carry a tune, act or play an instrument, but Barnett says he believes his support of the arts has helped Chattanooga in general and his own business in particular to grow.
Barnett has served on numerous civic and arts and theater boards in Chattanooga and he regularly attends arts and cultural events.
"Warren has long distinguished himself in the Chattanooga community as an esteemed businessman who is widely recognized as a passionate advocate and supporter of the arts," says Lillie Wills, one of several people who nominated Barnett for the award.
Dan Bowers, president of ArtsBuild, said the Ruth Holmberg award is six years old this year and he praised Barnett as a worthy recipient.
"Each year we proclaim that all recipients to date are exemplary, and wonder how we might find a candidate for the coming year which will fit the bill. Well, Warren does indeed do that," he says.
Barnett, who briefly worked for Ruth Holmberg during his stint in the circulation department at The Chattanooga Times where Holmberg was publisher, said he was both surprised and proud to be selected for an award bearing her name.
"Having known Ruth Holmberg and all that she did to support the arts and our community, this is a tremendous honor," Barnett says of the recent award.