In the beginning, charles schwab opened one of the world's first discount brokerages. now he's preaching honesty, trust, and the virtues of a diversified portfolio.
Want a happy read? A few light moments? Then take this as your reader advisory: Charles Schwab takes nothing lightly. Passionate is the best one-word description of this self-made billionaire, who certainly isn't shy about revealing his concerns about markets and society, which range from corruption on Wall Street to fears about the Social Security system. Push the right button, and Chuck - he is never called Charles - will open up with well-chosen words.

At No. 51 on Forbes' list of richest Americans (the magazine pegs his wealth at $3.2 billion) and chairman of the world's largest discount brokerage, Schwab knows he has a forum for his arguments. When I visit his San Francisco office, he talks slowly and deliberately, and pauses often as he articulates his ideas. In these pauses, Schwab directs his blue eyes at me, often through long silences, and I understand that he's taking my measure, trying to determine whether I'm really interested in the answers to my questions. While many top executives don't care whether reporters are engaged by their ideas, Schwab does.

He's not all piercing stare, however. Chuck Schwab is famous for his toothy million-dollar smile. He laughs, he jokes, and through it all he comes across as a guy who very much cares about the world and wants to do his part to make it better, not just for himself, but for all of us.

My final words to Schwab: "You're not a financial services executive. You're a stump preacher!" Before he answered, he laughed, with a pleasure that comes from being recognized for who you truly are.