John Bogle: Passing of an Investing Icon

On January 16th, Vanguard announced the passing of its founder, often called the “father of indexing,” on the firm’s site:

Mr. Bogle earned near-legendary status in the American investment community, it said, primarily due to the following achievements:

  • He introduced the first index mutual fund for individual investors and, in the face of skeptics, stood behind the concept until it gained widespread acceptance.
  • He drove down costs across the mutual fund industry by ceaselessly campaigning in the interests of investors. Vanguard, the company he founded to embody his philosophy, is now one of the largest investment management firms in the world.

The article offers an overview of Bogle’s career and vision:

  • Bogle started the firm’s operations in May 1975, referring to it as “The Vanguard Experiment.” A lover of naval history, Mr. Bogle felt the name “Vanguard” resonated with the themes of leadership and progress.
  • In 1976, Vanguard introduced the first index mutual fund for individual investors. Ridiculed by others in the industry as “un-American” and “a sure path to mediocrity,” the fund, First Index Investment Trust, collected a mere $11 million during its initial underwriting. Now known as Vanguard 500 Index Fund, it has grown to be one of the industry’s largest, with more than $400 billion in assets.”
  • In 1977, the article explains, Mr. Bogle and Vanguard again broke from industry tradition when the firm ceased to market its funds through brokers and instead offered them directly to investors. “The company eliminated sales charges and became a pure no-load mutual fund complex—a move that would save shareholders hundreds of millions of dollars in sales commissions.” Bogle’s commitment to safeguarding investors’ interests often prompted him to openly debate practices that were common among his peers, the article says.
  • Bogle never retired, but in his later years became president of the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center to continue his work on behalf of investors. He also continued to write and speak about the industry, the article says, adding that he was “sought after in the corporate community and served as a director for several corporations. He received honorary doctorate degrees from 14 universities, including his alma mater, Princeton.”

A decade after starting Vanguard, Bogle explained: “Our challenge at the time was to build … a new and better way of running a mutual fund complex. The Vanguard Experiment was designed to prove that mutual funds could operate independently and do so in a manner that would directly benefit their shareholders.”