The passing this week of Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, has highlighted what an extraordinary ethical visionary he has been. While we may mourn his death, we also celebrate how much better the world is because of his impact. Though Bogle may be remembered most for the invention of the index mutual fund in the 1970s, his most impressive achievement has been in providing such a marvelous example of how all businesses, not just the investment industry, need to be grounded in stewardship. For Bogle, that word meant that as a business you could act as a capitalist and strive to make money, but it still remains incumbent upon you to treat your clients honorably and honestly. It’s heartening that Bogle was still alive to see the massive transition to lower-fee offerings like indexing in an industry too often focused on its own enrichment rather than the wealth of its clients. Investors certainly owe him a debt of gratitude for the potentially hundreds of billions of dollars he saved them in lower fees, but we all owe him for leading through his personal choices the kind of ethical life that has so substantially improved the lives of others.
On a personal note, the one thing I’ll hold against Jack Bogle is that he set the bar so very high for honorable behavior in the business world. Though virtually none of us can ever contribute to the good of society to the extent Bogle has, we can at least aspire to follow his commitment to doing the right thing.
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