(June 19): In the summer of 2015, I met Professor Ed Altman at a lecture in New York. He had founded the Altman Z-score in 1968, a popular formula for predicting bankruptcy.
Altman’s gentle manner belied a titanic drive. As a PhD student in 1965, he was struggling to find a thesis topic. His professor sent him a single word note with “bankruptcy” written on it. Academic studies on the causes of bankruptcy were then rare. Altman was inspired to create an index that would rate the default probability of corporations.
Raw data was hard to get in the pre-Internet era. He had to patiently read through thousands of pages of annual reports. This was long before Bloomberg and Edgar. Pen, paper and the slide rule were the main tools (not Excel). Altman was determined to collate the data.