Observers called Bogle’s comments a “blistering” takedown of an industry that’s out of control. But to friends and associates, it was par for the course. “Jack has never, ever been afraid to speak truth to power,” says William Bernstein, author of books such as The Investor’s Manifesto: Preparing for Prosperity, Armageddon, and Everything in Between and The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio. “The plain fact of the matter is that the very structure of the modern financial system is corrupt to the core, extracting wealth from the nation’s ordinary people and placing it in the hands of a very few, and Jack has spent the better part of his life exposing these inequities. This has not made him a lot of friends in the business.”
The Supreme Court heard the case last fall, with the result expected to come down this year. The decision could rock the $11 trillion mutual fund industry and affect every one of the 92 million investors who entrust their money to it. Bogle, lining up against opponents like the Investment Company Institute — which he once chaired — finds himself in the thick of it. “I don’t get any joy about being a lightning rod,” he says. “But someone has to say these things.”
You get the sense, though, that Bogle secretly enjoys a good battle. After all, his office is papered with prints from the great naval conflicts of British Admiral Lord Nelson, like the Battle of Trafalgar, which established British dominance of the seas in the early 1800s. It’s in memorable clashes like those that Bogle finds his greatest inspiration — and even the name of Vanguard itself, which was Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of the Nile.
Vanguard’s story goes back 35 years, when Bogle founded the firm and created the world’s first index mutual fund , an investment designed to track an entire market like the S&P 500. To him it was common sense, since so many actively managed mutual funds were underperforming the stock market. Instead of paying fund managers so handsomely for such terrible stewardship of your cash, you could just buy every company on the market and pass the savings along to investors.
A simple-enough idea, but in an investing world where everybody thinks they’re brilliant, it requires a certain humility. You’re basically admitting that you can’t outsmart the market and accept the market’s return . But combine those market returns with rock-bottom investment fees and, compounded over time, you have a compelling case for index investing . Investors seem to have voted with their feet: Vanguard now oversees $1.3 trillion in assets, up from $564 billion just 10 years ago.
As a result, Bogle has attracted a cultlike following on Bogleheads.org, a fan site that grew out of the “Vanguard Diehards” forum on the popular financial site Morning star.com. There are now 16,000 registered Bogleheads, with the site garnering 9,000 unique hits a day. Bogle’s not your typical cult leader — instead of owning a Gulfstream jet or a personal fleet of Rolls-Royces, he wraps up half-finished sandwiches for eating later and was famous for prizing an old $12.95 watch — but fans worship him nonetheless.
Take, for instance, the time the Bogleheads met for their annual convention and Bogle was unable to attend because of a personal health crisis. Instead of missing it altogether, he arranged to be patched in via telephone from his hospital room. “Don’t ask me how he did it,” remembers Lindauer. “[But] he spoke to us direct from intensive care for about 15 minutes. It was so moving and just remarkable.”
Indeed, Bogle’s body has slowed a bit in recent years. He’s had to give up his beloved golf and squash, although he still sails on Lake Placid in New York. But he quips modestly that his mind is “not bad” as he enters his 80s, and he still relishes diving deep into obscure financial data, founding the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center out of his Pennsylvania offices . It’s not surprising that he still finds himself at work: When he was a kid growing up in New Jersey and his friends headed to the shore to relax, he was working his newspaper routes or toiling as a pinsetter in a local bowling alley.
Bogle himself, though, worries that he doesn’t have much time remaining on the clock. After all, for many years he’s been chugging along on someone else’s heart, having received a transplant from a 26-year-old after his own started failing. “I don’t think I have many years left in me,” Bogle says, his baritone voice going a little softer. “Fourteen years with a heart transplant: How much more can you ask for?”
Somehow, though, you can’t imagine Jack Bogle ever slowing down. And whenever Bogle thinks his campaign for reforming the American financial system seems to be going nowhere, he thinks of one of his favorite naval stories: Lord Nelson’s famous Battle of Copenhagen. Nelson was outnumbered and under heavy fire, with barely a dozen ships, and was ordered by his commander to retreat. He ignored the order — intentionally placing his telescope to his blind eye so as not to see the signal — and went on to wipe out the Danish fleet. “My battle may not be going well for improving the industry,” says Bogle. “But I’m turning a blind eye to all the opposition. And eventually, we’ll beat all the others.”
Advice from the Master
For investment advice, you could do worse than to talk to the man Fortune magazine once called one of the four investment giants of the 20th century.
Best of all, Jack Bogle’s tips aren’t peppered with financial jargon. Rather, they’re simple, straightforward and geared toward the average investor. The key for those assembling a long-term portfolio: Don’t “chase” mutual fund returns by picking the hot fund of the moment. Instead, build the proper asset allocation into your portfolio. Draw up a long-term investment plan, and then diversify your portfolio between different asset classes like stocks, bonds and cash, which will help insulate you from huge swings in any one sector. Then comes the hard part: Stick with that plan, no matter what insanity the market is going through on any given day.
One Bogle rule of thumb: Your bond position should equal your age, so a 40-year-old investor might have 40 percent of his or her portfolio in fixed-income investments. Bonds also serve as a useful portfolio anchor so that investors don’t panic and ditch their plans when the markets are swinging wildly.
As for stocks, even though they have scared the daylights out of investors for the last couple of years, Bogle thinks they now look relatively promising and that we’re in for an era of slow, steady gains. Expect 8 to 9 percent returns a year for the next decade, with stock valuations creeping back to historical norms. Says Bogle: “It’s hard to believe that, in the coming decade, stocks won’t outperform.”