Saint Jack

January 17, 2019

It’s not an exaggeration to say I wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for Jack Bogle, who passed away yesterday. At this point, you’ve probably read a dozen remembrances and farewells, and they’re all deserved. I suspect that across all of them there are a few common threads:

  1. Holy cats, where would we be without John C. Bogle?
  2. Personal memories of surprisingly direct interactions with someone who was as close to a superhero as our business has.

Both are true for me as well. In 1992, fresh-faced out of business school, I worshipped at the altar of rationality, perhaps to a fault. I was convinced that markets and investors operated in a system that naturally settled in efficiency and order.

And the saint of that temple was Jack Bogle. I and my classmates devoured the Vanguard mythology, and ultimately, I’d end up a practicing acolyte at Wells Fargo Nikko, one of indexing’s prime denominations at the time.

Faith Can Waver & Return

Over the years, my own faith wavered. The messiness of the real world and the temptation of thinking I was smarter than the markets sucked me into the world of trading, and ultimately (shocking!) running an actively managed mutual fund. All the while, Saint Jack was sitting on my shoulder, clucking his tongue at my silliness.

I didn’t get to meet the man in person until 2009. Back in the day, ETF.com used to publish a rather academic magazine called “Journal of Indexes.” Mr. Bogle agreed to present some of his current research at our annual editorial board meeting in New York, and sit for an interview after. You can still read the transcript here: “A Discussion With John Bogle”.

His point—pretty much throughout the last decade—was simple: While we as an industry may have created many very sharp knives, we put them in the hands of toddlers.

He believed—and stated over and over again—that simplicity, rather than complexity, was the key to investing. And he was worried that the ETF market had made complexity too easy for investors. Too much trading. Too many choices. Too many active influences on passive investing.

Meeting Saint Jack

My own interaction with him was in the green room in the hour running up to his presentation and interview. He sat, calmly, as if he could wait forever, without pretense or demand. And he just talked.

He of course had absolutely no clue who I was, but that didn’t seem to matter. We obviously talked about ETFs, but we also talked about the recent market meltdown that was still fresh, and how long-term investors fared. Most distinctly, I remember that he asked about my asset allocation and I mentioned I hadn’t touched it in years.

“Good. Forget about it. Best thing you can do. Sometimes boring and forgetful is the best thing you can be.”

So, thanks Jack. Thanks for a career, and thanks for making me feel better about being boring and forgetful. It’s been a long time, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

Dave Nadig can be reached at [email protected]

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