John Bogle, Founder of The Vanguard Group | A Motley Fool Special Interview

Updated : Sep 06, 2019 in Articles

John Bogle, Founder of The Vanguard Group | A Motley Fool Special Interview


Tom Gardner: Thirty-nine years ago, almost
to the day — a little bit longer than thirty-nine years ago — you started The Vanguard Group.
Jack Bogle, one of our heroes at The Motley Fool for so many different reasons — which
will come out, hopefully, in our conversation. It starts with simplicity and clarity, integrity,
and a solution that is transparent in a financial industry that works so hard against those
qualities, it seems, many times. What was life like for you in 1974? Can you paint a
little bit of the picture of what Vanguard was then, compared to what it is today? Jack Bogle: Sure, and this will not be very
surprising to anybody that’s ever started what we call in the modern age — we didn’t
use the term then — a “disruptive” technology. We were shrinking. When we finally broke up
the Wellington Management Company into certain operating units and Vanguard took over the
administration, we were going downhill. One of the directors said, “Bogle, do you
realize we’re hemorrhaging?” Realize it? We had more money going out than coming in for
83 months! You’ve got to be kind of blind, you’ve got to be kind of stupid, and you’ve
got to think it’s great news when a month’s cash flow goes from $20 million out to $19
million out. Everybody condemned the index fund. Ned Johnson
said, “Our shareholders would never want a fund with average performance.”
Gardner: “Mere average.” Bogle: By the way, that was the year — 1976,
probably — when all the Fidelity funds had fallen out of bed, and they weren’t getting
anything like average performance, just for the record. For whatever that philosophical bent was on
his part — nice enough to say — they now have a $150 billion index fund business, so
we’ve seen this huge swing. “Help stamp out index funds. Bam! Bam! Bam!”
— that big Wall Street poster. Everything was negative. The Wellington Fund had been
just about destroyed by our partners from Boston, from an investment standpoint. That
was the flagship of the Vanguard fleet, and it dropped from $2.1 billion to $400 million.
The performance was the worst in the industry for any balanced fund. There wasn’t a lot of good news around. All
the funds that were part of the merger went out of business — the Ivest Fund, finally
— funds that people had never heard of … the dustbin of history, we say. One called Technovest,
using technical market analysis — yes, Wellington bought out such a fund — and a fund for trustees
called Trustees Equity Fund, the first one. It crumpled like tissue paper in a fire, to
pick a metaphor! So, everything was bad. You had to know you
were right in the long run. You had to know that gross return in the financial markets,
minus cost, equals net return. Pretty smart here — that’s the underlying principle. I didn’t really phrase it this way in those
days, Tom, but when you think about it, we’re all indexers. Every investor in America is
an indexer because 25-30% — let’s call it 25% — is indexed, but the other 75% own the
index, but one at a time. That’s the total market, and if you have the total stock market
fund, you either own it as a unity or you own little chunks of it and somebody else
owns the rest. Will the unity; let’s call it the “unity
business,” of the index fund do better than the trading business, for all these other
people that own the index — trading with one another — and try to outpace them, which
of course can’t be true, and they pay their little helpers, and therefore they have to
lose. It’s all so clear that it is a disruptive
technology, and it works. But any time you try to introduce a new idea first it’s,
“It will never work.” Then, “It will work, but only for a short time.” Then,
“The guy’s really lucky.” And finally, “You know, he’s right.” Gardner: Do you think, during the “guy’s really
lucky” phase — or is there a phase in there — where it is “the guy’s a threat and we’re
going to say whatever we can to confuse people about the solution that he’s putting in the
market?” Bogle: Well, they can try that, but it’s too
late for that. It’s too late. In the last five years, roughly, $400 billion
has gone out of actively managed funds and $600 billion has gone into index funds. It’s
a trillion dollar swing, just for the equity part of the business. It’s probably around
$6 trillion or $7 trillion. It’s a huge swing in five little years — so the market is responding. Even the people that don’t like it at all
are doing it, because the client insists on it. Part of the insistence is going in the
wrong direction — and that is, we have the ETF, which is a way of trading the index fund
all day long, in real time. What kind of a nut would do that? Gardner: Well, there are a lot of nuts out
there, right? Even though there’s been a tremendous growth
in index fund assets, simultaneously there’s been a complete diminishment of long-term
investment, as a principle that is both adhered to by individuals, by professionals, covered
in the financial media that way. The average holding period for a stock or a fund, or holdings
within an actively managed fund’s turnover ratio is north of 100%. Bogle: It’s actually much higher than that
when you look at the cost of it because that’s the lesser of the portfolio’s sales and purchases,
that you count as the amount of turnover, and then divide them into the assets of the
fund. The fact is, whether it’s more or less — or
even the same — you’ve got those two sets of transactions. If you take money out of
a stock, that costs money. Then you put money back into another stock, and that costs money.
So, the costs are very, very high. The unit costs, in fairness — the costs from trading
a share — used to be maybe $0.30 or $0.25, in the old days, and now they’re probably
less than a penny. But if you’re trading 500 times as much … Gardner: Is there anything good about trading,
in your opinion? Bogle: Well, yes. I think the market needs
a certain amount of liquidity, and I accept that. But how much liquidity do we need? Do
we really need the market to turn over 250% a year? I grew up in this business. There
wasn’t a liquidity problem, and the turnover was 25% a year. I’ve been known to say — you’ll like this
expression — copying Samuel Johnson on what he said about patriotism, “Liquidity is the
last refuge of the scoundrel.” Gardner: And the scoundrel is transacting
that frequently because …? What’s motivating them? It’s human nature, and they’re blind
to what they’re doing? Or there’s a built-in conflict of interest that’s causing a professional
to transact either in their retail clients accounts, or for reasons inside their fund? Bogle: Well, first, there’s a lot of ego out
there. Even someone you know has a pretty big ego, but he doesn’t use it by saying,
“I’m smarter than other investors.” But we all think we’re smarter than the other guy.
We all think we’re better drivers. Sometimes I think we all think we’re better lovers;
I don’t know about that. But we’re all average — we know that — and have to be, and will
be. No Lake Wobegon here in the investment business. Then we have this massive marketing machine
of paid salesmen who can always beat the index. Because if you’ve got a universe of 500 funds
and someone says that they want the index because it does better, “Your problem is you’re
looking at the average fund. I will give you a fund that’s above average.” It’s always easy to do — very easy to do.
For some period, for some fund, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s a sales machine,
and they have conviction they’re doing the right thing, but they’ve got to know, deep
down, they’re not doing the right thing. Gardner: Now, there have to be some you believe
are doing the right thing on the active management side. There have to be some investors that
you’ve encountered over time that you think it’s admirable what they’re doing, and actually
that the results — insofar as we can draw a conclusion off a single sample of one person’s
lifetime — appear to be above average, sustainably. Bogle: Well, I’m not sure “above average”
is quite the standard, and that’s a really tough standard to meet — but you can do a
perfectly good job. The managers I like, and I don’t hesitate to say who they are; you
can look at Dodge & Cox and you can look at Longleaf, and there are probably a number
of other small firms. What’s so good about them? They are in the
business of investment management, and not in the business of marketing. This has become
a great, big marketing business, and they stick to their guns and they manage money. They slip. They stumble. They err. They make
mistakes. This is a business, for all that. But in the long run, I would bet on someone
whose business is trying to be a professional investor — not a trader — someone whose
business is trying to serve you, rather than serve the marketplace. There aren’t a lot of them — and I don’t
want to put a curse on them — because they’ll get too big and they won’t be able to do it
anymore. That’s one of the great secrets of this business — and that is, if you’re really
good for a long-enough time, you draw an awful amount of money, and then you can’t be good
anymore. Gardner: Too big to succeed. Bogle: Too big to succeed or, as Warren Buffett
says, “A fat wallet is the enemy of superior returns.” And of course it is. If you can get someone who can give an index
a good run for its money, I wouldn’t say you’re going to do a lot better. I don’t think they
would say you’re going to do a lot better. But it’s a good alternative, because you don’t
know it all; there’s an infinite number of choices. I think Longleaf probably runs four
or five funds. Dodge & Cox runs five, I think. The rest of us; Fidelity runs 260 funds. Vanguard
runs, I think, around 170. I’m not sure anybody really knows, and that’s tough on a whole
lot of levels. Gardner: Can you describe, fundamentally,
how an index fund works for somebody who is watching and owns a Vanguard index fund? How
does the process work behind the scenes? Is it five robots, three monkeys, and a bunch
of data, or are there human choices that are going into the index? Bogle: Well, first, you can match the index
in a very casual way. If Microsoft is 2% of the index, you just put 2% of the portfolio
in Microsoft. And the same thing is true of every other fund; not very complicated. If you don’t do it with great professional
skill and all kinds of quantitative support, you will do a perfectly good job, but not
a perfect tracking job. In the long run, you’ll match the index, but you might beat the index
by 50 basis points, half of 1% in the year, and lose to it by half of 1% in another year.
The tolerance is very small. Our investors like to see a tight tracking,
so you do all these quantitative things. They call for quantitative mathematical skills,
particularly when there are additions to the index or subtractions. That happens more in
the Standard & Poor’s 500 than in the total stock market. It’s a very simple thing, conceptually, but
to do it with something that approaches perfection is just what you say; a lot of quantitative
people, hidden behind the walls. Gardner: If we take the concept of “too big
to succeed” and apply it to a capitalization-weighted index fund, isn’t that a bad idea? Wouldn’t
it be better to set the index fund up on a different set of criteria, rather than weighting
it by capitalization? Aren’t we buying the largest companies and
the most successful companies, which should have the smallest future market opportunity,
and underweighting the small, potentially upstart, disruptive future Vanguards? Bogle: Well, you’re saying that the cap-weighting
indexes give you a flawed index, in effect. I guess my first comment would be, since such
an index beats the heck out of money managers, what kind of trouble would we be in if there
were a perfect index? Then I’d also say, much more importantly than that; the idea
of indexing, as Paul Samuelson described it when he wrote the foreword to my first book,
was “You will get better returns than your neighbors and sleep better than your neighbors”
— and your neighbors own the capitalization-weighted index. Now, will a value-weighted index do better?
Will a dividend-weighted index do better? Probably it will do better some of the time.
I do not believe it will do better in the long run. That remains to be seen. But when you think about it, if “fundamental
indexing,” — whatever that means exactly, but a weighting by some corporation data,
rather than by market price — still owns essentially all the stocks that the S&P 500
owns, with just somewhat different weights; not huge, but somewhat different weights.
They may do better, they may do worse. But if they continue to do better, what will
happen? Everybody will take their money out of the market-weighted index and put it into
the value-weighted index, and then the opportunity will vanish. That’s the way the markets work. I don’t think it’s going to work, and I don’t
think that it’s worthwhile to add that risk. I know what I can get. I can do better than
my neighbors. I can own the whole market — that’s a little beyond the S&P, but that’s a perfectly
good way of looking at it — do better than my neighbors. Should I give that — let’s call it “certainty
of relative return” — up for the uncertainty of whether one of these schemes that’s out
there? Equal weighting, value weighting, dividend weighting, fundamental weighting, all kinds
of weighting … Gardner: I feel like equal weighting would
be smart, but I guess time will tell whether that plays out. Bogle: It works sometimes; we have data going
back forever. But don’t let past data impress you. When
people start actually doing these things — you know this from your own experience — what
comes out of the lab is seldom reflected in the real world. Gardner: Let’s say somebody is indexing entirely.
How many funds should they own, as an individual? What’s too many and what’s too few? Bogle: You can certainly do it with one, and
that would be something like the Vanguard Balanced Index Fund. It’s 60% total stock market,
40% total bond market, both U.S. That’s fine. Gardner: A person out there could simplify
their lives; make sure they’re paying off all their high-interest debt — it’s gone
— they’re saving a portion of their salary each year, and they’re putting it all in the
Vanguard Balanced Index Fund. That three-step approach is going to improve the outcomes
for the majority of investors out there, number one, and you think it’s completely reasonable
to put it all in a single fund. Bogle: There are obviously a lot of nuances
here, and one of them is if you’re younger I would think you would want to be 80-85%
equities, and if you’re older I would think — although interest rates are so terrible
today you have to rethink all these things as the markets change — but older maybe 25%
equities and 75% bonds, something like that. This is kind of age-based — your bond position
should equal your age — but that’s a rule of thumb and, interestingly enough, it shows
a gap in the way these target-date funds, that are very popular today, are structured,
because they ignore the fact that 85% of their shareholders have Social Security. And Social Security, when you begin it, has
capitalized value — the stream of future payments you will get that is capitalized
at around, say, $350,000 — if you have $350,000 totally invested in an equity index fund,
you’re 50/50. You don’t look at it that way, and your behavior may get you in trouble that
way, because you’ve got too much in stocks. What people should be doing, honestly Tom,
is stop looking at the silly stock market every day and look at the cash flow they get. Social Security; those payments are going
to continue. They’re going to grow with the cost of living. I’m certain — as certain
as I can be — that Social Security will be repaired, simply because it has to be. I don’t
think its future is in doubt, if we can just wake up a few of those people down in the
nation’s capital. For stocks, you probably want to look at more
of a dividend bias. You could buy a high-yield dividend index instead of the total stock
market index if capital flows. That dividend — if you look at the stream of dividends
— it makes the stock market look violently volatile. The dividend stream goes up, up,
up. The fact of the matter is, there have only
been two significant dividend cuts since 1925. One was in ’29-’32 and the other was a
few years ago, 2007-’09, when all the financial companies pretty much eliminated their dividends.
We’ve already recovered from that’ that’s over. The Standard & Poor’s index is paying
more dividend now than it was before the drop. All of these things are clear in the past
and, in a lot of ways, that doesn’t matter. But if you assume that American business grows
and America grows, that dividend stream will keep going up — and as people ask all the
time — corporations have got huge amounts of cash so dividends should not be jeopardized,
absent some real problem in the world and in the economy. People should be aware of
that. Nothing is a lead-pipe cinch in this world.
Actually, it’s sort of amusing! You have a couple of big risks out there. You know about
the economy. You know about the international, kind of hanging on by its own. You know about
the dollar. You know about the Federal Reserve buying all those securities and trying to
bid the prices up of assets; not a particularly wise move. You have to assess those risks and try to
make some kind of a judgment, however difficult, about how they come out. But you also have
to realize a couple of things. The second set of risks is really the incomprehensible
risks, like nuclear warfare or a meteorite hits the U.S. Gardner: Or robots begin to control our society. Bogle: It won’t matter whether you have stocks
or bonds or anything else. Gardner: A club. You’ll need a club. Bogle: Yes, just a club. There are all kinds of big and small risks.
But, as I’ve often said, we’re sitting here knowing the world is going to hell in a hand
basket, but people have been worried about that since the beginning. Gardner: The known fears are not the ones
to really fear. By the way, Jack, I truly can’t believe that
you’re 84 years old. Are you 84% in bonds? Bogle: No. Gardner: So, you’re violating your advice.
I’m kidding! Bogle: You know, it’s my rule of thumb. And
of course, at 84 your Social Security doesn’t have a capitalized value of $350,000 either!
I’d like the next check to come in. My wife doesn’t think we should take the checks, but
we postponed them until we were 70. I could live on what I get from Social Security, because
we live in a fairly modest way — well, very modest compared to the standards of what you
see in the financial world and corporate world — but pretty nice compared to the typical
American worker. You start with a rule of thumb. Gardner: Then you work back. Bogle: You work back. And I haven’t figured
out, Tom, how to do it. When I first introduced this rule … I can remember back in 1999 at Morningstar,
I told them that I was reducing my equity position from about 75% of my holdings to,
I think 30% of my holdings, because the stock market was selling at 35x earnings and the
bond market was yielding 7%. I looked at the transcript a while back and
I said, “Honestly, when I look at the math, I don’t see why I would hold any stocks at
all, because at 30x, 35x earnings, stocks were not going to give you a 7% return in
the first decade of the 21st century.” Gardner: Now you look at the numbers, and
you’re not really sure what to do about them. Bogle: Now, my own position is that stocks
are more or less fairly valued — probably a little on the high side — but more like,
depending on whose number you’re using, 15x to 17x earnings, maybe 18x earnings. It’s
a long way from 35x — half. And bonds are not yielding 7%. They’re yielding
— depending on what you want to look at — 2.5% to 3.5% depending on corporate government
mix, maturities and things of that nature. So, you have to think a little bit differently,
but I have not done anything about that. I don’t change my portfolio. Gardner: I want to talk a little about financial
advice and how that side of the business works, because Vanguard is at least perceived to
be exclusively a mutual fund company, so a lot of individuals are trying to figure out
how to put a portfolio together. It’s helpful to hear the number of funds that you would
put into an account for an individual, and it’s relatively small. It should be manageable, and a decision an
individual can make on their own. Yet, many people come to their financial advisors and
say, “Please, Jack. Just do it for me. I’ll literally give you the authority to make all
transactions in my account. I don’t want to know anything about it.” This, of course,
sets up a lot of people to be taken advantage of by financial advisors. What do you think
of the financial advice side of the decision-making process? Bogle: First, let me take this — maybe you
think it’s kind of a nuance — but I got a letter from a shareholder the other day
saying, “You keep telling me you only need three or four funds. Why do you have 170?” I took this simple example for him. We have
like 60 bond funds … 60. Why is that? Well, we invented, or created, or developed, a system
of “You tell us the maturity” — how much risk and income you want — so you’ve got
short, medium and long, and also a couple of variations around that. Then in the municipal area, you not only have
the funds themselves, but you’re dealing with different states. Then we have some bond index
funds. We probably have 60 bond funds out there. An investor either has to know and do the
math — should he be in municipal bonds or in taxable bonds? It’s a very important decision.
Right now, municipal bonds look very attractive, simply on those kinds of numbers. Then you have to decide how you want to balance
risk and return. Obviously the higher yields, no matter how depressed they are, are in long
bonds; but the greatest risk is there. And the lowest yield is in short, but the greatest
principal stability is there. Those are decisions that investors really have to think a little
bit about. You can buy the bond index, to be sure, and
that turns out to be an intermediate-term bond fund, in fact; and that’s perfectly satisfactory. But we nuanced ourselves to death a little
bit. You should, in terms of taxable and tax-exempt, deal with that issue. I’d say, to simplify,
most investors should be in tax-exempt, just because they yield significantly more than
Treasuries, even before you take into account the tax exemption. I think they’re attractive.
Now, maybe you want some Treasuries there as your bulwark, and you buy a Treasury Bond
Fund. It gets to be a little nuanced. I think the interesting question is, if you
want financial advice, how much should you pay for it? Let me give you an interesting
piece of math. I look at the stock market investment return as a 2% dividend yield at
the present time — low but not nearly as low as the 1% we were — and a 5% earnings
growth. That’s a 7% investment return and over the
next 10 years, I don’t think it’s going to go up because of higher P/Es or down because
of lower P/Es; not down much, anyway, so there won’t be any speculative return, at my reckoning.
So, we’ve got 7%. That’s nominal. So, we go to real. If we’re lucky enough to
get 2% inflation, that’s 5%. A typical fund manager is taking 2%, that’s 3%. If you give
1% to an investment advisor, that’s a third of 3% and you’re down to 2%. Gardner: That’s brutal. Bogle: If you’re a fund picker, you lose around
2% by jumping on the latest bandwagon, and 2% minus 2% is a number that I won’t recalculate
for your audience! Gardner: It’s a reminder of Warren Buffett
saying that the financial services industry is an extractive. Bogle: Sure. The economists call it a rent-seeking
industry. Of course it is. It has to be. It has to shrink, and it has to get its costs
down. The trading volume has to come down, and a lot of mutual funds — they’re going
to be cash cows. The big mutual fund companies are fantabulously profitable. They can’t change
what they’re doing and do what we do, because they would not be profitable for their owners. Either financial conglomerates, or all those
partners at the Capital Group, or the Johnson family up at Fidelity; their wealth is like
$20 billion or something, putting the family all together. They’ve done great in this business.
Whether their shareholders have done great is the question that interests me. That’s
where we should be focused. And the financial conglomerates are the same
thing. They basically tried to destroy this industry; 40 of the 50 largest fund groups
are publicly held, and 30 of them by financial conglomerates. Think about buying a fund that’s
run by a financial conglomerate. Why did they buy their way into this industry? Gardner: And why are there more funds …? Bogle: The Golconda. They wanted to jump on
the wealth bandwagon of managing money, and they will accomplish that whether by hook
or by crook. If their return capital threshold is at 15% and they pay a billion dollars for
a mutual fund company, they’re going to have to take out $150 million a year — and it’s
easy. There’s all kinds of things you can do to make it up. Gardner: You’re a fan of capitalism. If we look in the marketplace in finance and
compare two actors out on the stage, one of them is a fee-only fiduciary financial planner
with a basic flat fee dollar amount that sits down and builds a Vanguard-based, indexed,
low-cost portfolio, acting as a fiduciary. The other is a financial advisor or broker. I’m reminded of three that came to a book
signing of ours in San Diego years ago and said, “You talk about the Vanguard Index Fund.
It’s really funny you say that. We now manage money. We’ve left the firm that we were at”
— in their case they were at Merrill — and they said, “We couldn’t sell the index fund
to our clients because we couldn’t make any money on it, but we all owned it ourselves.” It’s the complete reversal of the fiduciary.
It’s like, “I will be fiduciary for myself,” and then fiduciary with my relationship with
you is, “If you’re willing to buy what I’m selling, then I haven’t done anything I should
feel badly about.” The reality, though, in the marketplace is
that the first actor — the fee-only financial fiduciary — is living a relatively lean existence
in terms of the financial makeup, and the VP of the big investment firm has a country
house and is making $1 million a year selling load funds and a whole bunch of booby traps
in the portfolio to keep you locked into different products. How do you observe, and what conclusions
do you draw, about capitalism given that? Bogle: Capitalism has a very funny manifestation
when you get to the fiduciary duty of managing other people’s money. With most systems — particularly when you
begin with a new idea — if you want to get it sold, you pay the salesman a lot of money,
you advertise a lot, and you deliver seventy cents on the dollar, or something like that. The investment business is really a business
of mathematical candor. You can’t hide. If you’re selling a Mercedes-Benz, the salesman
selling it is going to say, “Look at the value you’re going to get. Your neighbors are going
to be envious, Blah, blah, blah,” whatever it is. And you like the diesel fuel, or the
door slams nicely, or it’s got a great sound system, or air conditioning — I don’t know
what. But in the financial business, value is one
thing: Dollars. It can be measured, unlike all these esoteric things that characterize
capitalism. And once you get to measuring value, the problem becomes a very simple mathematical
problem. Now, how you get people to focus on that is
a good question. How do you get them to focus on the role of cost in that, is a good question.
How do you get them to think about the long term? Because in two or three or four years
the difference in cost — let’s face it — just doesn’t matter. But, over your investment lifetime, getting
the market return in an index fund, or almost the full market return, compared to paying
2% — which is roughly the right number for a managed fund — means that you get, in the
latter case, about $0.30 on the dollar; $0.30. But you’ve got to look at 40 or 50 years.
But these young people today … say they’re 25; 50 years is 75. That’s too short! They’ll
live to 95. They should be looking at 70 years, and these numbers just get further and further
apart. A lot of people do need help, there’s no question
about that. But I think we have to rethink how we pay for that help. It may be that 1%
is much too high — although if you have a client with $25,000, 1% probably isn’t nearly
enough. I think eventually you’ll have a fee-for-service
kind of thing, like a typical professional service — lawyers, accountants and so on
— neither profession of which I’m particularly smitten with! They have gone that way, and
that’s the way they conduct their business. It’s more of a professional approach than
a business approach. But don’t try and get me to tell you there
are easy answers to this. You need help out there. People need their hands held. There’s
no question about that. Paying a little bit for it is probably better than doing nothing
and just trying to do it yourself. And the worst thing of all is not investing at all. That is the one guarantee we have in the financial
business. Well, there are actually are two. One is, if you buy the index fund you’ll get
the market return. Guarantee two is, if you don’t invest, you will get nothing. Gardner: Let’s take the family that I was
raised in, which taught us from a relatively early age to buy stocks directly. I’ll make
the argument on behalf of it. Then one of our members, Neil, wants to know what you
think of that argument — where you see strengths and weaknesses to it — and feel free to knock
it down entirely. You’ll just be knocking my whole life to the ground if you do! Bogle: Oh, will I really be doing that? Gardner: No! We were raised in a family and taught to invest
in stocks. It was a low-cost alternative, a one-time payment. I guess one of the primary
pieces of advice I give to any investor who’s buying stocks is “Double your holding period
right now” — and if you want to do it, right after you’ve done that, double it again
— because just as with a great fund, a great business should be held over at least five
years to really see the value of that organization play out in the marketplace. We were taught to buy stocks — the low-cost,
one-time transaction; find the great businesses with a great leader. Howard Schultz has been
in Starbucks, John Mackey at Whole Foods; these businesses have compounded incredible
returns since they became public 20 years ago. Hitch your wagon to the stars of these
really great, often consumer-facing, businesses that we can follow. You have to do a lot of numerical work and
valuation, etc., but that’s how we’ve been building our portfolios in our family. Neil wants to know when it is appropriate,
in your opinion, for an individual to buy stocks? Is there a level of expertise or interest?
An amount of time you should have, or capital? Or should it be a side frivolity in a base
portfolio of index funds? Bogle: That last sentence captures it best. That is, you should have a serious money account
— I might even call it a boring money account — where you put money in a stock market index
fund and balance it a little bit with some bonds, depending on age and so on, and don’t
look at it. Don’t look at it for 50 years. Don’t peek. But when you retire, open the envelope. Be
sure a doctor is nearby to revive you. You’ll go into a dead faint. You can’t believe there’s
that much money in the world. That’s where we fool ourselves. That’s a serious money,
boring money account. We have a gambling culture here in this country.
Maybe every country does. You see it in its finest manifestation — or maybe I should
say worst manifestation — in the state lotteries. Las Vegas contributes its share. The races
contribute their share, the track. All of these are just gambling, where a whole
lot of people bet their money, and a whole lot of people take their money out and the
croupier wins. The house wins. Gardner: Three to twenty percent of whatever
has been bet. Bogle: Of whatever it is … Gardner: You put a dollar in, you’re going
to lose … Bogle: I’d say if you have a gambling instinct
— and most people do — at least start off in an index fund, period, and for five years
don’t do anything else. Then look around. See what’s happened in the
five years. See how you felt when the market dropped 50%. See how you felt when it came
back. And those five-year periods are going to be very different for one investor and
another, because they’re all over time. Then, when you get there, 5% in the funny-money
account. Gardner: What would have happened to Warren
Buffett if he had done that? A tremendous amount of value would not have been created
by his understanding and ability to evaluate a business for investment. Bogle: Well, name two. Gardner: Well, Longleaf. You mentioned Longleaf.
Dodge & Cox. Bogle: Well, but they don’t have the sensational
returns. They probably have something above par returns, but maybe a little below par
from time to time. Then don’t forget, in Warren’s case, he wasn’t
running a mutual fund. The mutual fund is a badly structured business for investment
management. We say — and this is the way it has to be, really — you can take your
money out whenever you want, and you’ve got to be ready to put it in whenever you want,
and so you ride on these waves of optimism and good performance. The money comes in up
here and then reversion of the mean — which is a big part of the final chapter of my recent
book, called Clash of the Cultures. And it’s happened everywhere. It’s happened
in the Magellan fund. It’s happened in the T. Rowe Price Growth fund. It’s happened in
our old Ivest fund. It’s happened in the Fidelity Trend fund that Ned Johnson happened to have
run. It happened in the CGM. All the hot funds — they were all in there
for the last 25 years and, they all look like this. You put them over each other, it looks
like the Himalaya Mountains. The reversion of the mean is a constant pattern. Gardner: For the individual — I’m just going
to poke around here a little bit, just to get your full philosophy — it’s unlikely
you’re going to hit the mountaintop of the Himalayas with your portfolio. You may not
have to ever see the other side of the mountaintop, unless you have so successfully invested that
your personal account is moving up in the billion dollar … Bogle: Let’s say you bought Magellan before
it was for sale — which is where that record begins, by the way; there’s a lot of phoniness
in this business. You’re going to enjoy the mountain, and you’re not going to know it’s
a mountain. But when that mountain gets up there, you think, “My, God. I found the Holy
Grail!” Gardner: “Now I’m really going to go all
in.” Bogle: “…And now I’m going to go all out.”
There’s a lot of behavioral kind of stuff — not to use too fancy a word — in the mutual
fund industry. Interestingly enough, Tom, there is no behavioralism
in the field of stocks generally. How could that be? That’s because I’m a dumb behaver.
The guy that buys my stock from me is a smart behaver. We offset each other. It’s not as
if I can make a behavioral mistake without somebody else making a successful behavior
on the other side of the trade. I think we take a lot for granted. We listen
to all these theories and big, old, boring indexing is the answer. Gardner: Have you ever bought individual stocks
and/or actively traded funds — and if so, what do you look for in those investments? Bogle: Well, when I came into the business,
I had friends in the brokerage business. I bought this and that and the other thing.
Then I had a broker; he would tell me this was good, “Get out of that and get into
that.” It wasn’t that they did badly — which was, of course what they did — but it was
that I just couldn’t stand to have my phone ring when I was trying to do my work. So, I haven’t owned individual stocks since,
let me say, 1960 — I don’t know exactly — a long, long time. I’ve never bought anybody
else’s mutual fund, although I did buy a nice back-up investment for my son John — Bogle
Small Cap Growth — and it’s done rather nicely, of course. He’s very smart! That’s about it. Gardner: Even the most successful, actively
traded funds at Vanguard have a period of three years — sometimes even five years — where
they underperform, but net-net they’ve outperformed. In the case of outperforming actively managed
funds, let’s just say they have a few qualities that we probably both love: very low turnover,
tenured leadership, a very fundamental business-analytical approach. But even in those cases where the fund is
very well run — even Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger — are going to have a year or a period
of a couple of years, potentially, where they lose to the market. What’s the appropriate
amount of time to hold something before saying, “This team doesn’t really know what they’re
doing?” Bogle: Well, let me start off by explaining
Vanguard’s philosophy as I implemented it — not as they necessarily do today. That is very early after we closed Windsor
Fund back in 1985 — it was getting too big — and we started Windsor II. Everybody said
it would never do nearly as well as Windsor, and of course it’s done better, a little.
They track each other very closely, so I don’t want to make an issue about that. Then we had U.S. Growth, and that was run
by Wellington. We decided we needed a new manager, and I wasn’t so sure about them,
so I did what set the standard for everything I did since then, and that is bring in another
manager, and then another manager, and then another. We have a lot of equity funds that have five
managers. It’s not that it’s easy to pick five managers, but if you’re comparing yourself
with the universe of — let me say — large-cap value funds, and there are 50 funds in that
universe, five is going to have the same return. It’s a law of large numbers thing. Most of our equity funds have five to seven
managers, so there’s not much premium on manager selection. You hope they will do well. We
happen to be having a good year this year, but we’ll have a bad one because that’s the
nature of the business. What you don’t want is something that departs
so far from the market — particularly on the upside — I mean, you don’t like it on
the downside, but on the upside it draws money in. It brings in these investors who are looking
for the next big thing, the next hot thing. We win by about a point and a half a year,
on average, not because we pick better managers, but because we have very low operating costs;
our expense ratio. We negotiate the fees way down with the advisors — the fee rates — because
the advisors are not starving to death in terms of the dollar fees. Then we’ve looked, as you said, for long-term
managers with lower turnover, and then we have no loads. If you look at all those numbers
if we’re good enough to be average — or lucky enough to be average — we win by about a
point and a half a year, which is 20% over 10 years, and I always thought that was quite
good enough. Gardner: Just a few more questions. Is there
ever a situation that you can imagine where an individual should own a load fund? They’ve
sat down with a financial advisor. They watch this video, and they’re looking though their
portfolio as we’re talking, and they see a number of funds that their advisor has put
them in that carry a load. Is there ever a situation they should be happy about that? Bogle: I’d say unequivocally not. The advisor
is going to sell you a load fund and say “This no-load stuff is bunk. Here’s the no-load
index and this fund, even counting the 5% commission” — which is roughly where they
are today, although a lot of that has changed to advisory fees — “even with that 5% commission,
we did 50% better.” Well, hindsight is always 20/20. If they can’t
find a fund that beat the index, they can’t be very acute. They can’t be paying much attention.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to do! But don’t believe it. The past is not prologue,
and actually if you look at the numbers carefully enough and long enough and thoughtfully enough,
you’ll see the past performance of the fund is anti-prologue. The better it is in the
past, the more the regression to the mean; the greater that’s going to be in the future. Gardner: Do you believe that we will have
a unified fiduciary standard or not? Are you optimistic about that? Bogle: Let me just say this. The issue is
a very narrow issue at the moment, and that is the fiduciary standard for people who are
selling funds — investment advisors, fee-only investment advisors, stockbrokers, things
like that; it’s the firing line level — I think we are making a very big mistake. I’ve
written to the SEC three times about this, and that is the biggest problem on the fiduciary
side is in the fund manager side. We need a federal standard of fiduciary duty for fund
managers. Look at what’s going on at the Labor Department,
and I’ve talked to them down there about this. You look at the fiduciary duty for a corporation
and for the evaluator and for this one and that one — but no fiduciary duty for the
guy where you really need the fiduciary duty — the fund manager. We do need fiduciary duty. That would tend
to get us out of this morass we’re in of short-term trading, of high costs, of speculation versus
long-term investment — because it’s the antithesis of trading — and it would probably eliminate
the conflict of interest that is obvious if your fiduciary has two sets of fiduciary duties. One is the fiduciary duty to the mutual funds,
and the other is the fiduciary duty to the shareholders of his publicly held company
or publicly held conglomerate. Those two fiduciary duties are in direct conflict and so we, of
course, quote the Bible: “No man can serve two masters,” and then we add to that what
Matthew quoted the Lord as saying right after that: “For he will hate the one and love the
other.” Now in this business, who pays the portfolio
managers? Who makes all the money? Who has all the public stock? The manager gets all
the love. I won’t say they hate the shareholders — I wouldn’t say that at all — but they
love the managers more. Gardner: I want to just talk in the end a
little bit about the fact that you’ve been a business leader. We talk about investments,
but you started a company and ran that business, and it has $2 trillion in assets today and
14,000 employees. It’s massive. I’m sure it’s way beyond what you would have dreamed of
in 1974 — although I’m sure you were optimistic about your chances, given the solution you
created. How do you evaluate talent — the people that
you work with? What were some of the cultural features of Vanguard during your leadership? Bogle: One of them is exemplified by a story
I tell about the time we got to around 200 employees. I thought, “We really ought to
have a personnel department” — human resources, it’s called now — it seemed like a good idea. I was really a dictator, so I looked around
and tried to see who was not busy in the office; we were very strapped for being able to spend
any money. There was a secretary in the legal department, a very lovely woman. I talked
to our lawyer. We had one lawyer then — we have 140 now — that’s called progress! I said, “Could I use her to run a little personnel
effort — interview people and things?” He said, “Yeah, I think she can do that.” So, she comes into my office. “I’d like you
to do this.” “Whatever you want, Mr. Bogle.” We talked a little bit, and she started to
go out of the office. She was about to walk out the door and she turned around, came back
in and she said, “I want to do whatever you want me to do, Mr. Bogle, but I don’t know
what it is you want me to do.” I said, “Well, I’m not sure I know either.”
This is what happens when you’re a very small company. I had a lot of things on my mind,
of course, and I said, “I don’t know what it is that I want you to do, but let’s start
with this. Hire nice people and then make sure that they hire nice people. And that’s
the best I can do on this.” Most of the jobs at Vanguard — some of the
technology jobs require a whole lot of professional skill. Most jobs can be done by intelligent
human beings with a little experience and the motivation to do them. I look at Vanguard as not being some, “Can
we hire the best and the brightest?” I’d say — it’s a big universe — we probably
have our share of them. But you try and get people that you can work with, that can work
well with others. They’re going to try and not make the same mistakes you did. The change from a tiny, embryonic organization,
where there is a captain and the rest of the oarsmen down below in the galley — that’s
obviously oversimplified — but our mission is very simple. Our presentation is very simple. When you think of what we can explain to people,
and what they should do in investing, it’s right out of the proverbial hornbook, the
ABCs of the old days. It works, it’s understandable, and it’s guaranteed to give you your fair
share of whatever returns the stock and bond markets are generous enough to give us — or
mean enough to take away from us. Gardner: There’s a Gallup survey that shows
that seven out of ten people going to work in America today basically say they’re indifferent
or even downright negative about the organization they’re working for. In a funny way, in that rowboat scenario,
where we’re all rowing together … in many organizations, more than half of the people
don’t even really care about what they’re doing. Obviously you’ve found people who are
passionate about the principles. Bogle: We have more turnover than I would
like, but that happens at these middle-grade job levels. Our people are well paid. They’ve
got terrific benefits with partnership plans. They share in the earnings we generate for
shareholders. I still spend an hour with each Award for
Excellence winner — the program I put in there all those years ago — and there are
probably about eight per quarter, so I get to sit down and talk to eight people a quarter.
It may not sound like much in an organization that big; 32 a year, 320 in ten years, 640
in twenty years. Now these are exceptional people. That’s why
they got the Award for Excellence, so I’m not kidding myself. But we have human conversations;
talk about commitment, talk about opportunity, talk about the lack of opportunity. Talk about
anything they want to talk about. They’re among the most engaging and pleasant moments
of my career. Gardner: You’re in the unique position of
having started the company, run the company, and now sit as an observer of your creation.
Succession is such a big issue for so many. We have a lot of small business owners that
are at The Motley Fool and thinking about that. What have you learned, or what do you
think about? I find it to be a great thing that you have
minor “lover’s quarrels” with things that are happening at the company that you created
— which I think must be intellectually stimulating for you, and the organization. How is that
experience for you? Bogle: It’s difficult. Let me be honest about
it; it’s difficult. The company is not particularly smitten with my directness and outspokenness,
and my books. People don’t like criticism, generally speaking,
but I’m just trying to tell it the way I see it. I’d say my book, The Clash of the Cultures,
almost entirely reads like a great big commercial for Vanguard. There’s some things they don’t
like in there — talking about the Wellington Fund fee increase, which I believe was unjustified,
talking about our proxy voting policies, talking about the possibility of having a transaction
tax — and a bunch of other things that are similar to that. I finally had to develop a response, when
someone says, “I understand you disagree with Vanguard on that point.” I say, “Absolutely not. I would never disagree
with Vanguard. Vanguard disagrees with me, and it’s their right.” Gardner: You’re optimistic about what Vanguard
will become over the next 100 years. Bogle: Where you are, you have to be optimistic. There are risks out there. Will they ever
try and “de-mutualize” the company? That’s happened in a lot of places. I don’t think
it can happen there, but anything can happen in this world when you’ve got human beings
involved. I think it’s important, even as we maintain
the letter, or the implementation of a mutual structure, we have to maintain the spirit
of that mutual structure too, and that requires some doing. You’ve got to keep your mind on the mission;
that your mission is to serve, day after day after day. It’s very difficult to see anything that can
get in the way of that, except some massive thing like a huge stock market collapse; that
would not be good for us. Every once in a while, we (00:53:46) some of these new funds.
I have a little question mark about, “You must be betting they’re better than an index
fund.” I wouldn’t even look. I just say, “I bet they’re not,” because nothing can be
in the long run. I watch. I think people at Vanguard really
— I don’t want to overdo this — but I think they love me. I’m a normal human being … more
or less normal anyway! I’m straightforward. They can identify with that. Even the people
that have been there for a very short period of time seem to know who I am. Gardner: It’s total authenticity, which means
sometimes we’ll agree, sometimes we won’t agree. Bogle: Yes. Gardner: A member of ours named Vicki was
bringing up the importance of skin in the game. You’ve had skin in the game with the
business, and have your capital with the Vanguard funds to this day. The mix of those qualities — even though
it may lead to some public disagreement — is overall a benefit to both the organization,
to you, and to the outcome for the customers of that. Bogle: I really don’t care who benefits or
who doesn’t benefit. I have to tell it as I see it. I’ve been able to do that for a
long, long time. I was key to Vanguard going into business.
You walk a road that you think is the right road. You walk it as straight as you can.
You be as honest as you can. I’ve gotten so I find confessing my mistakes,
of which the number in my career — I don’t even want to get into hundreds, thousands
… I don’t know how many I’ve made; an infinite number, maybe, in my career — it’s kind of
liberating to say, “I really blew that one.” I blew a lot of stuff. But the underlying
thesis, if you will — the underlying concept, the underlying idea of owning a market, whatever
the market may be, and getting your fair share — has worked and will work. Who else can
say that about what’s going on in their own company? Gardner: Small failures all the way to great
success. My final question: How are you spending your
time now? An incredible part of your story — which we haven’t talked about here but
we’ve talked about on the radio — is your human heart. How old is your heart right now? Bogle: Well, I got my heart when it was 26
and I’ve had it for almost 18 years. Gardner: A year younger than I am. Bogle: Forty-two. But I’m starting to feel
a little more like 84. The trail in recent years has been a little difficult — the physical
trail. I’ve had some very profoundly serious problems and long hospitalizations, but you
go into them optimistically. My wife is a powerful support, and my kids are wonderful.
You get over the bumps. You’re always optimistic. The idea when you go into a hospital again
is they put you down on the gurney and you just go, “Here we go again.” Like the whole
business with the transplant, my reaction is just the same, Tom. If I thought jumping up and down on the kitchen
table and screaming and yelling about the unfairness of life would help my condition,
I would do it! But it occurs to me it would make it even worse. So you kind of go along.
You speak out with honesty. I’m not trying to say something to hurt somebody, but I’m
not going to agree with something I don’t agree with. I think Vanguard benefits from
that immensely. The shareholders; I’m still close to a lot
of them. I still get a lot of correspondence. I’m still writing a lot. I have an article
about to come out in The Journal of Portfolio Management, another article about to come
out in the Financial Analysts Journal, a foreword to a book about Paul Cabot, one of the founders
of the industry, and a book about John Maynard Keynes published by, I think, Oxford University
Press, in which I write the final chapter called, “Adam Smith and Capitalism.” And I
did a foreword for John Wasik’s book on John Maynard Keynes as an investor. So, I’ve got Keynes. I’ve got Adam Smith.
I’ve got one of the industry’s founders, and I’ve got two academic articles, and I’m starting
to worry that I’m going to run out of things to do. Gardner: I don’t think that’s possible, Jack!
Any time you need any extra work that you’d want to do, just come hang out with Fools. Bogle: Okay. Well, you’ve been a good Fool,
Tom. Gardner: Well, it all started with “Bogle’s
Folly …” Bogle: We’re associated. Gardner: We’re bound by name. Jack Bogle,
thank you so much for taking time. We could continue this conversation for another hour,
but let’s let you get on with your day. Bogle: But we tire.
Gardner: Thanks, Jack. Bogle: Thanks, Tom, very much.

71 Comments

  • Wow, I've always loved the honesty, humanity and logical mind of Bogle, but this interview was still really enlightening and, by the end, very poignant and touching as well. Thanks for doing it, Fools.

  • Does anyone know if Mr. Bogle has a protige/successor?  Forgive me for jumping the gun, Jack, but you're such an enormously needed person on this planet and I know nothing or no one lasts forever.  I fear for the economy (as though it's not bad enough) for when God decides to take you back for the true angel that you are.  Please tell me there's a plan for this.

  • Bogle is great, Vanguard sounds good. I put a considerable amount of time and effort into researching this and finally decided to move my IRA funds to Vanguard. 

    But the employees at Vanguard are not up to the task–they seem to be completely incompetent across the board. They couldn't execute a simple transfer of funds. Every time I called, and right from the start, it sounded like every 25-year-old, ill-informed, ill-trained guy had no grip on the situation.

    Now they can't even close my account.

    This is no good, Mr. Bogle, if you can't train your people right.

  • I have been following Jack's advice for 20 years now and I'm not sorry I did.  Thank you Jack, you are truly a champion for the little guy. 

  • He makes investing simple. Which it should be. I am amazed at how many of my friends have financial advisors, annuities and other garbage which is simply stealing money from them. I just tell them: Index funds, low expense ratios, bonds equal your age….set it and forget it. A caveman could do it 😉

  • Why would a man with 22 billion in Exxon call gold a "speculation" with "absolutely no underlying intrinsic value?"

  • holy shit this guy's voice is totally the opposite of what I thought it was. He looks like he would have a normal, old man's voice, but damn hahaha deep ass voice!

  • Some 1,129 people have been killed and nearly 3,500 wounded in eastern Ukraine since the start of the Kiev's military operation in April, according to UN estimates.

  • How do we gather funds for starting an index tracker? We form as a corporation and issue stock/shares? Curious how that works.

  • Mr. Bogle could EASILY be a billionaire but he decided to give back to his customers!  Always remember that.  He's only worth like 60-80 million while the Johnson's are over 20 million.

  • I like this guy! Wish I would have found out about him years ago! Thank you for doing this interview, greatly appreciated, thank you!

  • MR BOGLE, IN VIEW OF THE CRITICAL NEED TO STOP GHG EMISSIONS [PRIMARILY FROM COAL FIRED POWER PLANTS] PLEASE DIVEST CARBON BASED POWER PLANT COMPANIES FROM VANGUARD FUNDS ASAP.   THANK-YOU FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.

  • Benjamin Graham – also known as The Dean of Wall Street and The Father of Value Investing – was a scholar and financial analyst who mentored legendary investors such as Warren Buffett, William J. Ruane, Irving Kahn and Walter J. Schloss.

    Warren Buffett once gave a speech at Columbia Business School explaining how Graham's record of creating exceptional investors (such as Buffett himself) is unquestionable, and how Graham's principles are everlasting. The speech is now called as "The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville".

    Buffett describes Graham's book – The Intelligent Investor – as "by far the best book about investing ever written" (in its preface).

    Graham's first recommended strategy – for casual investors – was to invest in Index stocks. 
    For more serious investors, Graham recommended three different categories of stocks – Defensive, Enterprising and NCAV – and 17 qualitative and quantitative rules for identifying them. 
    For advanced investors, Graham described various special situations or "workouts".

    The first requires almost no analysis, and is easily accomplished today with a good S&P500 Index fund.
    The last requires more than the average level of ability and experience. Such stocks are also not amenable to impartial algorithmic analysis, and require a case-specific approach.

    But Defensive, Enterprising and NCAV stocks can be reliably detected by today's data-mining software, and offer a great avenue for accurate automated analysis and profitable investment.

  • compare the results of the vanguard index fund to the medallion fund and you will see that there is a much better way. James Simons is a total genius though and I'm not kidding in the least.

  • Great !… But how on earth is it any good if you don't know when this took place. This seems typical of such interesting financial discussions I see on YouTube … Why ?

  • I think invest in a index is for people who recognize they dont have the abbility to select stocks that will go better than the averages, or dont have time or interest in do this work. WB says the better way is invest in a index cause he knows there isnt anyone who can invest as him or as Munger. Nobody could substitute them.

  • When I was working in a trading firm, we were paying thousands of dollars in costs to the broker every month. Only one trader of us all was massively in profit.

  • Vanguard screwed me.

    1998 invested $24k into their Crown Jewel fund. The "Index 500". liquidated it in 2014 at $28k. Net gain of $3k in 16 years??? My Fidelity was invested in 1999 with $21k. Then in same 2014, it stood at over $35k. With one year less and $3000 less than the Vanguard "Index 500". Go ahead and look it up that fund. But Vanguard CHANGED the name of that Creme de la Creme fund several times in written notices to me which looked "funny". Like what's going on? Several years ago. HUGELY DISAPPOINTED IN VANGUARD. OF ALL PLACES. WOW.

  • Actively managed funds are too expensive and they do not perform well ! Put your money in an Index Fund! A great read is "Where are all the Customers' Yachts?"

  • For many years I was stuck in fidelity very high fee Investment on employer sponsored,I quit the job,I put all my 401k into vanguard total return,It's easy no complications whatsoever thanks so much Jack you are saving my life.

  • I could listen to Mr Bogle for hours. He talks the most sense of anyone in the financial world. A genius & genuinely nice guy.

  • We are immigrants entering USA 1963. Penniless. With meager earnings we lived in Chicago slums for years. Saved and invested in mutual funds ever since. No advanced education. 401 k, IRA, annuities and mutual funds until today. Single income. Wife was / is housewife raising our son and keeping us healthy with home cooking. Modest lifestyle. We are comfortably retired as were as my relatives in Germany are struggling. Germans in Germany do not like stocks. Vanguard is one of our investments.
    REPLY

  • The problem with not looking at your account for 50 years is that sometimes index fund ETF dissolve and return the money to the investors. In this case, you end up with cash in your account. If this happens early, you won't have a lot left at year 50.

  • Does anyone understand what they were saying about daytrading ETF's? It seemed like they were talking about how (pardon the pun) very foolish it is. I know day trading is risky and isn't for everyone but there's definitely people that can be successful at it. As of late, the equity market has been so unpredictable that ETF trading might be a lot safer for some.

  • what a phenomenal video with a legend. Sad thing is, most people in their life wont take advantage of ETFs or index funds as they will most likely be with asset management who take a considerable amount of their nest egg (through fees) over their lives..

  • This man is my idol and hero (along with my father). Salt of the earth thinking about others best intertest.

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