Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting John Bogle. Also known as Jack. He’s been named one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine; he’s been regarded as one of the investment industry’s four “Giants of the 20th Century” by Fortune; he’s also one hell of a nice guy. Witty, too. Oh, and he also founded Vanguard.
Just in case you didn’t know, Vanguard is the largest mutual fund company in the world, managing approximately $2.4 trillion in assets.
The most striking thing about Mr. Bogle was his modesty. Going into the event, I was expecting someone along the likes of Carl Icahn or Donald Trump; dressed in a fine Italian suit, shrewd and slightly pompous. WRONG. He was more like Mr. Rogers. You know, the gentle old man from the kid show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood who always wore the cardigan and came in singing “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Mr. Bogle quietly entered the room wearing a forest green sweater, and a sand colored blazer. If he wasn’t formally introduced, I would’ve thought he was just someone’s grandpa. [Side note, he is someone’s grandpa, 12 times over in fact.] Anyway, Bogle was asked to speak to his career in front of a small gathering of students and faculty. His words were not so much career advice as they were life advice. Here goes:
Read: “Read, read, read and write, because writing makes you think. Or at least it makes me think”. [Note: Bogle’s book suggestion? The Bible.]
Be yourself: “If you can’t be yourself, fake it. Don’t fake it ‘till you make it, fake it until you become it.” Bogle borrowed these words by an alumni publication issued by his alma mater, Princeton University. One of the many that he reads.
Be a contrarian: “If one more person tells me it won’t work, I’m going to start it myself. So then I did. I started the index fund.” Did you catch that? Mr. Bogle started the world’s first ever index fund, and he did it against all odds.
Hire Nice People: Vanguard’s first ever Human Resource department was comprised of just one woman, a former secretary in the Company. When Mr. Bogle called her to his office to take on the role, the secretary gladly accepted. While leaving his office she said to him: “I’ll do whatever it is you want me to do Mr. Bogle, but what is it exactly that you want me to do?”. At first the man didn’t even know himself. But then it hit him, and he advised her to do just this: “Hire nice people, and tell them to hire nice people too”.
Walk the talk: When I asked Mr. Bogle how he established the culture at Vanguard, he said this: “You work at it. You walk the talk. People have called me many mean things in my life, but they’ve never called me a phony”.
Don’t watch the stupid market: “Bologna is the name of the business in which I find myself”. Wait, what? When someone asked one of the world’s most highly regarded financiers about investing he said “don’t watch the stupid market” and then he mentioned bologna? Yes. That’s right. He also said that the market was just a “giant distraction to investing” and “it creates no value; corporations create all the value”. You know what, Mr. Bogle is right. The market is solely a means of transacting…it’s a simple concept but yet we can’t seem to grasp it. Instead of trying to understand the true essence of corporations, modern day investors are more concerned with trying to attain some sort of clairvoyance in predicting what the market will do next. It’s a waste of time. If you want to start investing, Mr. Bogle suggests you buy into an index fund and let it ride.
Be a good person: ”Never think you are better than anyone…be kind. As you rise in your career, don’t forget to be nice!” Mr. Bogle himself admits that most executives at his level lose sight of what it means to be nice. It seems so simple, but it can take you so far. Mr. Bogle said that he often enjoyed talking to the people that came in at nights to clean as opposed to those that were in the suits.
Never settle: When a student asked Mr. Bogle when he finally realized the point at which he reached success he responded with this: “Not yet”. I have no words. Okay lies. I have one word, and its WOW.
Don’t forget about the rainbows: Mr. Bogle was fired from his first job and at the time, he had 6 kids. However, it was one of his greatest blessings, because it inspired him to start Vanguard. With that, Mr. Bogle noted that life’s most cataclysmic events can turn out to be the best ones. So why did I mention rainbows again? Oh, because they do in fact come after the rain.
The above are just a few of the snippets of advice I was able to garner from this financial sage. The man is truly brilliant, but he’s so much more. He’s modest, he’s humble, and he’s just really, really nice. At several points throughout his speech he downplayed his genius by insisting that anyone of us could’ve done his job and that he was just lucky. [Err..huh? Even me?] Then, at the end of his speech, he apologized for taking up so much of our time. Really? Here’s the guy that basically put the mutual fund on the map, and he’s apologizing for taking too much of my time? How’s that for thoughtful?
Mr. Bogle is a true inspiration, and the world is lucky to have a leader like him. His advice is sought after by presidents, economists, and investors all over the world, and I feel so lucky to have met him. He’s a rarity. Not because he’s a gazillionaire and insanely smart. Not even because he invented the index fund and founded Vanguard. But because he is probably one of the few people in the world that doesn’t think he’s better than anyone else. Now THAT my friend, is special.
Oh, and you want to know the best thing about good ol’ Jack? He’s from Jersey.