In May of 2007, John Bogle, former CEO of The Vanguard Group and the legendary inventor of the index mutual fund, addressed the graduates of Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. Bogle began in an unlikely way:
"At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, the late Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, the author Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, 'Yes, but I have something he will never have… Enough.'"
Bogle went on that day to encourage the graduating MBAs to pursue careers in finance, but to not let the allure of obscene paydays cloud their duty to provide real service, versus simply peeling off a percentage and adding no value. In Bogle's eyes, the finance industry has become more about the pursuit of personal wealth for those handling the money than concern for the investors whose money has been entrusted to them. If the investors make money, great. But if they don't, guess what? The managers still get filthy rich.
Bogle has now taken that speech and lengthened it to a book of the same name: Enough. It's an ambitious book that attempts to reform the money managers, open the eyes of investors, and inspire all parties to pursue their highest selves versus simply pursuing the almighty dollar. It's part biography, part instructional, part self-help - an interesting combination, even if it feels unfocused at times.
Enough shines a light on Bogle's sense of despair over the state of the financial industry, and perhaps industry in general. It's almost as if he fears his own reputation is at stake due to the fact that many in the general public would likely place money managers just below used car dealers on a list of trustworthy professionals these days. From CEOs who implode their companies and float away on golden parachutes, to financial companies who create instruments so complex they themselves have trouble understanding them, to mutual fund companies that market rosy returns while sugarcoating their fees, Bogle sees a lack of integrity and a willingness to play fast and loose with ethical rules in order to make a buck. (Or, maybe more accurate, 150 billion bucks.)
While Bogle clearly blames financial magicians for making your money disappear, he also uses the book as another attempt to get investors to see the wizards for what they are. As in past books, Bogle again makes his pitch for index funds, due to the fact that they beat the vast majority of "professional" stock pickers while offering lower costs and guaranteeing that the majority of the return will end up in your pocket. If less money was out there chasing returns that simply can't be sustained, we'd have fewer finance companies creating complicated instruments that guarantee nothing more than their houses in the Hamptons.
Some will inevitably see Bogle's words as self-serving. After all, he made his money in the very industry he chides, and he points to his own creation (the index fund) as a large part of the answer to the problem. However, the accusations will ring hollow. While Bogle has made plenty, the numbers back him up on index funds, and his own earnings have never reached the heights of today's hedge fund managers. (Not to mention the fact that he gives a huge percentage of those earnings away.)
Enough is surely not Bogle's swan song (he sounds too energetic for that), but it does feel like a final, desperate attempt to change the ways of his prodigal sons before it's too late. Will anyone be reading?