In 2015, Times of Entrepreneurship founder Elizabeth MacBride interviewed Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, about his love for poetry. In an article in the BBC, she noted that he and other entrepreneurs returned to particular poems for inspiration and reflection. To mark his birthday on May 8, more than a year after his death at 89, she and other journalists and admirers celebrated his life and published reminiscences.
After the interview, he wrote her a reflection on the values that helped him grow Vanguard from an upstart that Wall Street called “Bogle’s Folly” into the world’s largest mutual fund company. For him, it came back to service. Vanguard has a unique, shareholder-owned structure that means that profits from the investments flow back to shareholders in the form of lower fees. By structuring the company that way, Bogle gave up the chance to make billions on the index fund innovation.
Though, to be fair, he was clear on what motivated him to start Vanguard at the beginning – it was to save his career.
But he surely did realize the value of what he’d done over time. Bogle will be remembered for helping to launch the index revolution and the world’s largest mutual fund company. But he believed the reason the revolution and the company succeeded was because of the value he made sure they embodied: helping middle-class investors.
To build a company so great that it becomes an institution, it must be focused on a cause larger than profits and certainly larger than the founder’s ego.
Of course there are no simple answers as to why Ozymandias has always stuck such a responsive chord in my life. The first thing that comes to my mind is “play down the arrogance, pal, What you’ve built will not last forever. Nothing lasts forever.” Our universities and our churches come the closest, and they have been built, respectively, on learning and the search for truth, and on faith that there is something out there–unseen–that is bigger than we mere mortals.
So your reading of my mission is not far-fetched. An institution that is built to serve one’s fellow human beings should have the best chance to survive for the maximum possible time. By creating our truly mutual, shareholder-owned structure, mergers are not necessary and hostile takeovers not possible. By focusing on index funds and other funds with relatively predictable returns, we minimize the risk of out-sized declines (and out-sized gains) we effectively guarantee our shareholders their fair share of whatever returns our financial markets provide. In the long run, the winning strategy.
But there are no guarantees. Company leadership can do what it will. Company crewmembers need to be treated fairly, and with respect. People matter, and caring about the human being with whom we serve–and whom we serve–must be the soul of any institution worth its salt. I’m guessing that Ozymandias wasn’t much into caring–except about himself and his works.
You didn’t ask for an essay. Sorry. Take what you need.
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