Pasadena Retiree Reflects on Baseball, Investment Culture

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Phil Swan Sr., pictured with son Phil, has been involved with numerous nonprofit organizations throughout his 88 years.
Phil Swan Sr., pictured with son Phil, has been involved with numerous nonprofit organizations throughout his 88 years.

At age 88, Pasadena resident Phil Swan Sr. might be slowing down a bit. But he can’t help reflecting on the wonderful life he’s had in the Crown City, where he was born, raised and ran the successful investment firm Philip V. Swan Associates.
A local through and through, Swan was born in 1929. He graduated from South Pasadena High School, received his bachelor’s degree from Pomona College and his graduate degree from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Swan said one of his first early loves was sports, for he had the opportunity when he was rather young to see gridiron action in person, something he’ll never forget.
“I’m a big baseball fan and I’m a big Trojans fan,” he said. “My dad took me to my first football game in 1938. It was USC and Alabama at the Coliseum. It was darn good. I had never been to a football game and I was only 9 years old. The game was 19-7 Alabama. Oh, I had fun!”
In fact, Swan mentioned he has been to more than 500 Trojan football games over the years, including the rivalry games against Notre Dame.
“There were some heartbreakers, both ways,” Swan said.
And who was Swan’s favorite baseball team? That’s simple. Long before the Dodgers got here there were the Hollywood Stars, who played at Gilmore Field, which was located where CBS Television City now stands in Los Angeles at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.
“I absolutely loved the Stars,” he said. “Every single team in the Pacific Coast League had at least one Major League player. And we had a few longtime Stars players their whole career.”
Swan said the players were much more accessible back then than they are now, as the game wasn’t quite as commercialized.
“It was easier to get to them,” he said. “All of them were nice guys. The old guys were just really lucky to have a job. We’d get autographs and Zesto drinks, hot dogs, and take the red line down to Pasadena, from Pasadena to downtown and take the bus out there. It was fun.”
Swan’s son, Phil Swan Jr., noted that the advice given to Swan by his mother is extremely contrary to how parents would talk today.
“They were like 11-year-old kids and it was the red line to the bus, by themselves,” the younger Swan said about his father travelling to baseball games. “His mother would say, ‘Boys, just talk to everybody and you’ll be safe.’ Just engage everybody. Basically, talk to strangers. It’s not what they say today.”
But is the game better today than in the past? Not really, the older Swan said.
“I really liked it better then because it was more informal,” he said. “You’d get autographs. And I got a lot of Stars stuff.”
At Pomona College, Swan said he got to play a little baseball. He started out in a pre-doctoral program, but didn’t like it and switched to history after one year.
He joined the ROTC in college, which made him presumably safe from the draft and probably not headed to Korea in the early 1950s.
“As soon as I graduated, the war ended,” he said, adding he spent time stateside for almost two years during that conflict.
Once out of the service and out of college it was time to get a job. He came back to Southern California and went looking for a business job in downtown Los Angeles.
“Spring Street was the hub of the business district in L.A. back then,” Swan Jr. said. “His first job was with Clifford Associates in 1955. It was an investment counseling firm.”
Swan Sr. said the firm was founded by Henry Clifford, who graduated from Yale University in 1932. Swan learned the investment counseling business from the ground up at Clifford.
“Henry was a really difficult guy,” Swan said. “He didn’t care what anyone thought. He looked down on everybody. Oh boy, did I learn a lot! I learned about investment counseling and the way it was done in those days. You did your own research. You really learned how to do it. … They were sticklers for doing it right. It was a wonderful place to start.”
Swan Sr. said he eventually moved on to Lionel D. Edie, where he spent more than 20 years in investment counseling, before opening his own firm, Philip V. Swan Associates, in 1981, first in Los Angeles and later in Pasadena on South Lake Avenue.
And what was the best part about being in business for himself?
“You could do it your way,” Swan said. “I was good because I liked people and I could adjust quickly. I would take impossible people no one wanted anything to do with.”
Swan said he also had several charitable clients and high net worth individuals who donated a lot to local nonprofit organizations.
The younger Swan added while his father was good at numbers and with business, what set him apart was his ability to personally help his clients.
“He was a very solid investment manager, but was outstanding on the client service,” Swan Jr. said. “These days there is this big rush to just have things managed passively, just by the index. For active managers to survive, you’ve got to have solid results, but you have to have something distinctive on the service side that you’re doing, that people really like and appreciate. My dad was a pioneer with the mindset of ‘Let’s really treat people well.’”
The older Swan sold the business in 1999. But what ultimately struck him as ironic is that the company that bought his firm eventually merged with Clifford Associates 10 years ago, meaning his professional life ended right back where it began.
Swan Sr. married his wife in 1953 and had two older daughters in addition to the younger Swan. As his wife passed away in 2011, the older Swan remarried not long ago. The happy couple lives at Villa Gardens in Pasadena.

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