Robert Zoellner, Founder of Alpine Associates, Dies at 82

Robert E. Zoellner, who with his wife founded Alpine Associates Advisors, a firm specializing in merger arbitrage, long and short equity trading and bankruptcy-related investments, has died. He was 82.

He died on Dec. 23, according to a statement e-mailed yesterday by Gary Koops, a spokesman for the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey-based company. No cause was given.

Alpine, which started in 1976, manages $1.7 billion in assets and its core arbitrage business has never had a losing year, according to its website. He ran the firm with his wife, Victoria Zoellner, a former Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. broker.

The couple contributed $6 million to build an arts center at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University that opened in 1997. They were also founding sponsors of the annual December holiday model train show at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York.

Robert Emil Zoellner was born on April 26, 1932, in Irvington, New Jersey, and grew up in East Paterson, now called Elmwood Park. His father, Emil John Zoellner, was an engineer who specialized in tool design; his mother, the former Anna Elizabeth Morton, owned and ran a diner.

After graduating from Lodi High School in 1950, he attended Lehigh, where he was co-captain of the ice hockey team and enrolled in Air Force ROTC. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1954, then served two years in the U.S. Air Force.

Joins Brokerage

Following military service, Zoellner founded the Wall Street firm E.J. Roberts, according to the statement. He then joined Hempstead, New York-based brokerage Edwards & Hanly, where he became managing partner in 1964.

In 1974, the New York Stock Exchange levied $26,000 in fines against Edwards & Hanly and two employees, including Ivan Boesky, for failing to deliver on settlement dates shares that were sold short, the Wall Street Journal reported. In a short sale, the seller sells stock he or she doesn’t own, speculating that the shares can be bought later at a lower price.

Zoellner, who was the firm’s chief executive officer at the time, denied the allegations.

“Our admission to facts and penalty was solely for the purpose of settling a pending proceeding,” he said, according to the Journal. “While we settled to avoid continuation of potentially protracted and expensive proceedings, we don’t believe we were guilty of any wrongdoing.”

Moving On

In 1987, after Boesky had started his own arbitrage firm, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy in an insider trading case, paid $100 million in penalties and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Zoellner remained at Edwards & Hanly until he started Alpine.

He and his wife lived on an almost 60-acre (25-hectare) estate in Alpine, New Jersey, according to a 2007 New York Times article.

Zoellner amassed a rare complete collection of U.S. stamps issued from 1847 to 1947. They sold at auction for more than $8 million in 1998, according to a Boston Globe story. One of the items, an 1868 1-cent “Z-grill,” was purchased for $935,000, then a record price for a piece of U.S. postage, according to a 2005 Times article.

Survivors include his wife, the former Victoria Eckert, who is Alpine’s president; three children, Robert E. Zoellner Jr., Alisanne Zoellner and Gordon Alexander Uehling III; and seven grandchildren.

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