PALM BEACH, Fla., Dec. 22, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Hedge fund pioneer and beloved philanthropist E. Lee Hennessee-Gradante passed away Saturday morning, October 29, 2016 at her Trump Plaza home. A stroke was the apparent cause of death. She is survived by her business partner and partner in life, husband Charles Gradante.
Lee Hennessee-Gradante led an extraordinary life. From September 1, 1952 until October 29, 2016 and even now her legacy continues to touch and inspire. Lee grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Mary Francis Dillon and William Edward Hennessee. She graduated from St. Mary's Prep School and was presented at the North Carolina Debutante Ball in 1971 before graduating in 1975 from Randolph- Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, VA. Following a brief one year career in teaching, Lee found herself in New York doing things she had been told "women did not do" in the male dominated world of Wall Street finance. In fact Lee would end up doing things that no one had done.
In 1987 Lee became the first person to create a hedge fund index using it to found the first hedge fund advisory business as a division of E.F. Hutton. In less than six months Lee landed a 50 million dollar account and became one of the division's top ten producers. As a Vice President at E.F. Hutton, Hennessee would eventually move her business to financial power houses including Shearson Lehman Brothers/American Express, Republic National Bank and Weiss, Peck and Greer.
When they met and married in 1992, Charles Gradante was an accomplished Wall Street professional who would partner with his wife and together pioneer the burgeoning hedge fund industry. Gradante held positions in venture capital with the John Diebold Group and oversaw sales-trading and risk management as Assistant to the Chairman of Drexel Burnham Lambert (Europe). As President and CEO of Chelsea National Bank, with branches in New York and Latin America, he led the bank out of near bankruptcy. In 1995 he joined Lee at Weiss, Peck and Greer. Within two years the pair took the company private creating the Hennessee Group LLC, quickly becoming a major force in the hedge fund industry. With a mind for micro and macro economic analysis coupled with an investment instinct, Charles managed their high net worth client portfolios, compounding client returns 133% above the compounded returns for the Dow Jones average for over 20 years.
Lee and Charles also became fixtures on TV and familiar names in finance circles. Making almost weekly rounds on CNBC, Fox, CNN, Bloomberg and other media outlets, the tag team couple were pioneering hedge fund asset management for high net worth investors. Charles was invited, as an expert witness, to advise the U.S. Congress and SEC on this ubiquitous and highly secretive industry. After opening offices in New York, the Hennessee Group LLC expanded to Raleigh and Palm Beach. For nearly 25 years, the Hennessee Hedge Fund Index was published or sourced monthly in Barrons, Bloomberg and the New York Times providing key insights into the performance of hedge funds as an alternative asset class. With $1.6 billion of assets under management, the Hennessee Group LLC was one of the largest privately owned hedge fund money management firms of the era.
With a successful business came the desire to give back. By this point in time Lee had broken so many glass ceilings that, in 2007, the New York Post named her one of "New York's 50 Most Powerful Women". She often served as a mentor to young women and later co-founded "100 Women in Hedge Funds".
Lee and Charles were also partners in philanthropy and politics. The couple championed many causes from the Junior League to Easter Seals donating time and resources to help others overcome strife and prejudice. Together they co-chaired the committee that organized the New York City Billy Graham crusade as well as the finance committee for Elizabeth Dole's presidential campaign.
Lee co-founded the New York City Christian Women's Fellowship which folded into Campus Crusade and was a trustee of the Palm Beach Atlantic University while Charles served on the board of Regent University.
The business Lee and Charles founded continues to thrive but that no nonsense personality tempered with southern charm will be greatly missed. Lee's incredible life journey will continue to be an example of how confidence, talent, perseverance and finding the right partner can lead to an exceptional career and life. Her husband said of Lee "She was the air that I breathed, nurtured my faith, and was the love of my life. "
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SOURCE The Hennessee Family