THE NEW KID ON THE BOARD

Chip Fichtner, vice president of managed commodity accounts for Bear, Stearns & Co., is sitting in the catbird seat at the tender age of 21. As the youngest vice president in the 58-year history of the privately held brokerage and investment banking company, Fichtner manages approximately 75 individual accounts that require minimum investments of $50,000 per client. His average account is $70,000.

Partners at Bear, Stearns & Co. growl at their veep being labeled as a whiz kid. Fichtner is no fly-by-night broker, and the partners are less than thrilled with the flurry of publicity he has generated in the last few months: Apparently he’s the talk of Wall Street and if that doesn’t impress you, People featured a profile of Fichtner in September. Fichtner takes the hoopla with a grain of salt and keeps the company moving toward his officially announced goal -building the commodity system to $50 million in the next two years.

Fichtner cut his teeth in commodities investing three years ago in Dallas, when he worked as a “flunkie” for Clayton Brokerage of St. Louis. In a year he became a broker’s assistant and then a broker with the company.

By 1979 Fichtner had landed at Merrill Lynch, where he specialized in managed accounts. But the self-described “ideas man” soon realized his ideas were getting lost in the big company shuffle.

“I wasn’t willing to put up with Merrill’s management layers,” Fichtner says.

Just as Fichtner began fidgeting at Merrill Lynch, Bear, Stearns & Co. began casting acquisitive glances at him. Assured by management that his voice would be heard and that decisions would be rendered quickly, Fichtner joined the firm in March 1981. He brought with him “a couple of million” in commodity portfolios that he managed at Merrill Lynch.

The financial clout Ficht-ner wields allows him a reasonable standard of living – two ranches, one 25-acre spread south of Dallas, and another 150-acre place south of Austin. Fichtner concedes that his life is more work than play, but quickly adds, “I’m still a 21-year-old bachelor.”

Does he have any fears of premature burnout?

“I wonder about that every day,” Fichtner replies with a slightly sarcastic grin. “I don’t think there is such a thing.”

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