So many people have John Bogle stories.
For some, it is a chance encounter at a conference and a whispered word of advice. For others, it is a formal meeting. In one case, it was an airplane day trip and train ride just to meet the man.
Many others never met him, but remember the moment his investment and life philosophies clicked, and suddenly thrust their minds into focus.
When Mr. Bogle, the Vanguard founder who popularized the low-cost index mutual fund and helped put billions more dollars in the pockets of millions of people, died on Wednesday at the age of 89, he inspired an outpouring of memories.
These are the stories of those who learned from Mr. Bogle, a man so many knew simply as Jack — no last name required.
We may never know how many people were able to leave the full-time work force early after following Mr. Bogle’s instructions, but Christopher DeMers was one of them.
His salary from working in marketing for Intel and good savings habits helped him retire at 51, but so did a big pivot he made years earlier. After encountering Mr. Bogle’s writing, he went from having all of his money in a single, actively managed mutual fund to diversifying his holdings among many Vanguard index funds.
Having worked in technology as that industry’s stocks climbed skyward in the 1990s, Mr. DeMers could have easily talked himself into the delusion that he had some special insight. But he resisted the urge, as Mr. Bogle counseled investors who thought they could outsmart Wall Street.
“If I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Mr. DeMers, 63, said, “I’m not going to beat the market in the long run.”
Mellody Hobson was a young executive at the mutual fund company Ariel Investments when her boss, John Rogers, took her on a field trip. They hopped a flight from Chicago to New York, then made their way to the train station to catch John Bogle during the only time he had to spare: a train ride to Philadelphia.
Then Mr. Rogers hit Mr. Bogle with his opening line: He really wanted Ms. Hobson to meet a legend like Mr. Bogle because she was going to be president of Ariel by the time she was 30.
She was taken aback — it was the first she’d heard such a forecast. (It actually took her until she was 31.)
As they chugged through New Jersey, Ms. Hobson came face to face with a financial legend — if nominal competitor — who didn’t care about his own bottom line.
“What I felt most of all was that his overriding North Star was caring about the customer,” she said. “And wanting what is best for the customer, that’s what I wanted for Ariel clients.”
Harold Evensky was an early recruit in the growing army of financial planners and investment advisers who make money only through the fees that clients pay them directly, no commissions or kickbacks. Many adopted the Vanguard style of investing — low investment costs and simple index funds.
That philosophy leads to interesting conversations.
“Occasionally, an investor will say, ‘I need X percent return to meet my goals,’” Mr. Evensky said. “While that may be a true statement, market returns will be what they are, not what an investor may believe they need. Jack always reminded us that we needed to be realistic in our expectations.”
Mr. Evensky, who met Mr. Bogle several times over the years, spoke to us via email because he was on a cruise ship between Los Angeles and Honolulu. He could afford the trip, he said, in part because of the long-term planning that Mr. Bogle helped inspire.
Low Fees (Like, Really Low)
Jonathan Clements, who spent two decades at The Wall Street Journal preaching the virtues of low-cost investing, said that it was easy to forget Vanguard’s innovation came in two parts.
The first is obvious: Vanguard customers paid less to own their investments than customers at other mutual funds. But people miss the second part: Mr. Bogle set Vanguard up so the company was owned by its funds, which were owned by their shareholders. That kept it from needing to raise fees to satisfy an aggressive profit target.
“It was a competitive advantage that nobody else could match,” said Mr. Clements, who met Mr. Bogle perhaps 20 times over the years.
And those low fees added up to bigger gains.
“Jack fought that battle for decades and decades,” said Mr. Clements, the author of “From Here to Financial Happiness” and editor of humbledollar.com. “And lesser mortals would have given up far earlier.”
Barbara Roper, the director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, said Mr. Bogle didn’t just bring low-cost investments to the average person — he ran Vanguard for the benefit of investors.
“There has been thinly veiled resentment toward Bogle from other mutual fund leaders over the years because of his focus on reducing costs, which was a direct threat to their bottom line,” said Ms. Roper, who met him once, when she was seated next to him at a dinner. “He always cared more about that vision — how the industry should be run — than making friends in the industry. Of course, he was rewarded with a following that was cultlike in its devotion.”
The cultists call themselves the Bogleheads, a group of like-minded investors who consider Mr. Bogle the spiritual leader of their financial lives.
Each year, the Bogleheads hold a conference. And Christine Benz, the director of personal finance at Morningstar, has interviewed him at each one for the past decade. She called him the conscience of the financial services industry.
“His consistent belief that all investors deserve a fair shake was a core principle that I incorporated into my work and shaped my career path,” she said. “You listen to Jack Bogle and you think, ‘I want to be on this guy’s team.’ Whatever he is talking about, this is the right thing to do for people.”
So strong was Mr. Bogle’s belief, she said, that it remained firmly instilled in Vanguard long after he had given up control. And once investors convert to his ethos of simplicity and thrift, it’s for life.
“Investors come around to Vanguard, and then they never leave,” she said.
Jon Stein met Mr. Bogle roughly a decade ago, as a student at Columbia Business School beginning to plot what would become Betterment, a robo-adviser that builds portfolios for customers.
Mr. Bogle was on campus to promote a book, and Mr. Stein stood in line for 20 minutes to have his copy signed. Mr. Stein seized the chance to share his best pitch for Betterment, which, in his eyes, would augment Mr. Bogle’s favored index investments with low-cost, automated portfolio advice.
Mr. Bogle listened and told Mr. Stein he would help a lot of people. Inside the book, Mr. Bogle wrote, “Stay the course!”
“He could have written that in everyone’s book,” said Mr. Stein, chief executive of Betterment, which opened to customers in 2010. “But when he wrote it to me, it meant that we were onto something.”
They met again years later at Mr. Bogle’s invitation. Mr. Stein arrived at what looked like a professorial grandparent’s study, and was shocked at how much Mr. Bogle had prepared for their meeting, marking up a stack of materials about Betterment.
“We are standing on the shoulders of Jack,” Mr. Stein said. “We would not be here, Betterment would not exist, without his example with the business he started.”
When Ramit Sethi won a pile of scholarship money for college, he invested some of it in the stock market. He lost big, so he began to learn.
“Going through Wall Street is like playing a video game on the hardest level,” he said. “Someone is out to get you, and you don’t even understand it.”
He soon stumbled on the writings and speeches of Mr. Bogle. “He spoke in a very plain way,” Mr. Sethi said. “And it was heresy what he was saying, while having the courage to go up against a multibillion-dollar industry.”
When Mr. Sethi decided to make a career in advice about the psychology of money and career strategies, he began with his own bold promise in the title of his first book: “I Will Teach You to Be Rich.”
“I came out swinging,” he said.
It was a New York Times best-seller. And on his book tour, Mr. Bogle received him in his office.
Carl Richards writes the Sketch Guy column for The New York Times. He never met Mr. Bogle, but found inspiration in his life’s work. He offered this sketch, and the words below.
Making something simple sounds easy. Turns out it’s not.
The world is full of simple hacks that are not even worth the hashtag often applied to them, but the real priceless jewels of simplicity, as Mr. Bogle once put it, are uncovered only after toiling about in the maddening nuance of complexity.
You consider your options. Listen to counterarguments. Push some edges.
My job is to find those jewels of simplicity and share them as sketches. Every once in a while, I get it right. And when I do it’s because John Bogle, he of the elegant and downright simple index fund, gave me permission. I just have to do the work of cutting through the complexity first.
The ethos of the financial services industry was far different when Manisha Thakor began her career 25 years ago. “The drumbeat on Wall Street was Gordon Gekko’s painfully memorable mantra of ‘Greed is good,’” said Ms. Thakor, now vice president of financial wellbeing at Brighton Jones, a wealth management firm. “‘More’ was the word of the decade.”
And the most powerful lesson she may have learned from Mr. Bogle — whom she had heard speak at a variety of events over the years — was the concept of “enough.”
“Enough” was also the title of one of his books, her personal favorite, and the idea underpinning Mr. Bogle’s financial and personal way of life.
She called indexing the financial manifestation of the idea. “It’s the notion that accepting your fair share of the market’s return over the long run will do you just fine,” she said.
But “enough” was also the mark of man who worked for the benefit of others, rather than himself.
“What is often missed when speaking about Jack’s legacy,” she said, “is the way in which this concept of ‘enough’ also shaped his outlook on the way to live a life of meaning, rooted in character.”