Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) — Phil Duff had a three-decade hot streak.
He earned degrees from Harvard University and MIT and then skipped through the ranks at investment bank Morgan Stanley, becoming chief financial officer in 1994, when he was 36. Hedge fund phenom Julian Robertson hired him four years later as chief operating officer at Tiger Management LLC.
Duff struck out on his own in 2000, founding hedge fund firm FrontPoint Partners LLC — which Duff, a lifelong outdoorsman, named for a mountain-climbing technique used to scale steep ice faces with crampons. Six years later, he sold the company to Morgan Stanley for $400 million.
He could have stopped there. He didn’t, and his legacy today is 43,400 square feet (4,030 square meters) of silent, unoccupied office space in Greenwich, Connecticut, with a custom food court, two jumbo flat-screen televisions and about $6 million of other amenities. The offices were to be the home of Duff Capital Advisors LP, a firm that the super-confident Duff, 52, once predicted would be bigger than Tiger, which at its peak managed $22 billion.
Then the global financial system seized up, and no pension fund had a spare $1 billion to invest with Duff’s moneymen. Duff never moved into his new digs. As of late September, his $39,000 desk — a single slab of caramel-colored walnut with bronze legs — still sat in a corner office with views across Long Island Sound. The landlord got the desk, $1.5 million of other furniture and an $11 million penalty when Duff Capital negotiated an end to its 15-year lease, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Duff, who lives in Greenwich and vacations in Sun Valley, Idaho, didn’t return phone calls or e-mails.
“It should have been a perfect opportunity,” says Josh Green, an independent money manager who joined Duff Capital in October 2008, six weeks before Duff dismissed all of his fund managers.