Remarks by John C. Bogle, Founder and Senior Chairman,
The Vanguard Group
Harvard Business School
December 7, 1999
Way back in 1990, at our traditional Christmas/Holiday
Party, the title of my speech to our organization was "If You Build It, They
Will Come," a theme borrowed from that wonderful film Field
of Dreams, the story of baseball old-timers who appear on a diamond
carved out of the cornfields of Iowa. I used that theme to reinforce Vanguard's
philosophy of creating solid mutual funds with sensible strategies, providing
first-class service to our shareholders, holding a tight lid on operating
costs, and minimizing marketing costs of doing it all rightand
then waiting patiently for investors to come.
Amplifying my theme, I then asked the question of who the you is that builds, what the it
is that we build, and who the they are who
come. My answers: you are our employees; it is our products; and they
are our customers. Before my audience had a chance to reflect on those answers,
I sprung my trap: Employees and products and customers
are words we simply don't use at Vanguard.
An employee, it seems to me, is a person
who works for someone else, who does his or her job from nine to five each
day, who asks no questions and makes no waves, and who then picks up a paycheck
at the end of the week. So we use crew member,
a designation tied to the omnipresent nautical theme we established when we
named our new firm after HMS Vanguard, Lord Nelson's flagship at the great
victory over Napoleon's fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. But much
more importantly, crew member suggests teamwork,
interdependence, and the realization that we're all in the same boat. We will
sail on to victory, or we will sink in the struggle.
And the word product has nothing to
do with what we provide. We do not think of ourselves as selling productsCampbell's
Soup or Ivory Soap or Packard Motor Cars, all remarkably successful consumer
products at one stage in their history, products to be heavily marketed until
times and fashions change and then replaced by something else that is saltier
or softer or sleeker. We would offer financial services,
or simply stewardship, durable mutual funds with sound investment philosophies, prudent
strategies implemented with simplicity, and rock-bottom costs to investors,
the better to enhance their profits. The idea: We would
not make what we could sell. We would sell what we made.
Finally, we did not seek customers,
those who would move from one product to another depending on fad or whim,
location, or price. We had no interest in creating an investment version of
Pokémon or Barbie doll or pet rock. Long-term investors, not short-term
speculators, would be the focus of our strategy. We sought clients,
those who would enter into a long-term investment relationship with us, trusting
in our investment skills and our stewardship.
That anecdote, I think, says a great deal about Vanguard's view of the
service-profit chain. While the chart in Harvard Business School Professor
Michael Porter's 1996 article, "What Is Strategy," nicely describes
how Vanguard works (Chart 1), my story explains
why Vanguard works so well. In any event, for an enterprise without
a single employee, or a single product, or even a single customer, we have
come a long way. Our assets, $1 billion at the outset in 1974, now total $530
billion, marking us as the second largest mutual fund firm in the world; as
the fastest-growing company in the industry, with the highest level of client
loyalty; and as the lowest-cost providerby farof financial services
on the face of the globe.
Patterns of Industry Growth
Since our inception, we have grown at a 27% annual compound growth rateand
a steady one at that. Charting our mutual fund assets on a semi-logarithmic
chart results in something akin to a straight line. Our huge base in recent
years has grown at essentially the same rate as our tiny base grew in the
early years. Just a decade ago, when our assets totaled $40 billion, I drew
a chart that projected what our 1999 assets might be, based on various future
rates: 30% ("inconceivable," I said); 20% ("unlikely"); and 10% ("easy"our
investment returns alone ought to do that
job, with new investments from investors adding incremental assets). Well,
with $530 billion as 1999 ends, our 27% historic growth rate hasn't yet gone
away (Chart 2). Nonetheless, I was ever fearful of the challenge of unbridled
growth both on investment strategy and on organizational effectiveness back
in 1989. So I entitled the chart "The Tyranny
Source: Vanguard, Strategic Insight.
Driven by the long bull markets in both stocks and bonds, the ever-market-sensitive
mutual fund industry too has burgeoned, growing at a 17% annual rate since
1986 and increasing assets eight times over. Vanguard's 26% growth rate since
then has multiplied 19-fold. To be sure, we found ourselves in the most rapidly
growing segment of the fund industrythe direct marketing (largely no-load)
sectorwhich became the industry's largest distribution channel in 1996.
This growth reflects an increasingly cost-conscious breed of self-motivated
investor. Happily, we had sensed this trend years earlier, and were well prepared.
For in 1977 the Vanguard funds abandoned their 50-year dependence on stockbrokers
and made an unprecedented leap forward to no-load distribution. Direct marketing
has grown at a 21% annual rate, resulting in an 11-fold asset growth. The
runners-up in the growth sweepstakes, growing at a 16% rate, were independent
firms offering load funds, largely sold by stockbrokers. Their assets grew
sevenfold. In a poor third place, growing at just 12%, with but a fourfold
asset increase, were the proprietary load funds, managed and
distributed by the brokers. Despite the obvious and innate competitive advantage
held by broker-sold funds, their notably high costs and notably low returns
(not entirely unrelated!) were too much for even their dedicated distribution
systems to overcome.
Market Share and Client Loyalty
The very first sentence in the 1994 Harvard
Business Review article "Putting The Service-Profit Chain to Work"
noted, "outstanding service organizations spend little time setting profit
goals or focusing on market share." Nor do we. From the time Vanguard began,
my two fundamental rules were: 1) Market share is a measure and not an objective;
and 2) Market share must be earned and not bought. Nonetheless, Vanguard's
market share has grown. And grown. And grown. From 9% of direct marketing
assets in 1980, we topped 10% in 1984, 15% in 1988, 20% in 1992, and 25% in
1998, reaching a 29% share in late 1999 (Chart 3). Since 1986, significant
market share growth has been achieved by just two firms: Vanguard (+14 percentage
points, from 15% to 29%) and Fidelity (28% to 31%, +3 points). In the meanwhile,
T. Rowe Price (3 points, to 5%), Scudder (3 points, to 2%),
and Dreyfus (14 points to 2%) all tumbled sharply. With a total share
of 72% in 1986 and 70% in 1999, the "Big 5" are clearly swapping shares with
one another. In fact, of the 25 largest firms in the direct marketing field,
19 have lost market share since 1986, with only six gaining.
Source: Strategic Insight.
What can we learn from the success of the two peerless leaders in gathering
market share? Only this: There is no single route to
success. One leader has had the benefit of long-term performance
success, a reputation that hangs on despite the tough sledding that has characterized
its returns in recent years; and the most aggressive and expensive marketing
and advertising programs in the industry's history. ("If you sell it, they
will come," apparently.) The other leader, by contrast, has spent little on
marketing and less on advertising, relying instead on the word-of-mouth recommendations
of its shareholdersthey are truly our apostlesand conveying
our story through the financial news media. (Truth told, there are a few apostles
there too!) "Earned and not bought" seems to work just fine.
It is our well-deserved reputation for low costs and shareholder service,
part of a truly distinctive business strategy, that lets us stand out in a
field populated largely of firms that all seem to do the same things, make
the same claims, and produce, over time, the same returns, fund returns that
are typically driven down by the high costs of acquisition and ownership incurred
by their investors. Professor Porter had it right when he spoke to the Investment
Company Institute in 1993: "The mutual fund industry has grown fat and lazy,
a 'me too' industry with most companies stuck in the middle. Only Vanguard
has differentiated itself from the pack by having a genuine, unique, sustainable
competitive advantage." He did reassure industry executives, however, by telling
them that our "measured, careful, gentlemanly competition" gave them some
protection. But that's the way I've always wanted to play the game.
While it has seldom been noted by industry observers, our growth has
been importantly fostered by what is measurably the highest level of client
loyalty in the mutual fund industry. Vanguard shareholders have consistently
redeemed their shares at only about one-half the industry rateabout
10% of assets per year, versus almost 20% for the other fund complexes (Chart
4). Investors who purchase a Vanguard fund stay at Vanguard for an average
of 10 years, compared to just five years for those who invest with our peers.
Consider this example of what this has meant to our growth: This year our
share redemptions will be about $55 billion dollars. With new share purchases
of $105 billion, our net cash flow will be about $50 billion (before dividend
reinvestment). Had our shares been redeemed at the industry ratei.e.,
doubling to $110 billionwe would have actually experienced a cash outflow. Repeated year after year, then, an industry
redemption rate for Vanguard would have radically vitiated our market share
gain. Client loyalty, in short, is one of Vanguard's major assets.
Source: Investment Company Institute.
Low Costs Produce High Performance
The attraction Vanguard obviously holds for long-term investors has
been driven by two main factors. First are our hallmark low costs. In an industry
where costs have soared over the years, Vanguard is distinguished by driving
its costs ever lower. (Bear in mind that the industry costs reflect fund expense
ratios only; they ignore sales charges, paid on the purchase of shares in
almost one-half of all mutual funds. Since we offer only no-load funds, Vanguard's
cost advantage is in fact substantially larger than it appears.) The impact
of cost is greatest where the time horizon is longest. If a low-cost complex
operates at a cost of 1/4 of 1% (assuming a market return of 10%) over 25
years, it captures 95% of the market's return. A high-cost complex (at 2%)
would capture but 63%. So here is another form of the tyranny of compoundingcost
Since 1980, the expense ratio of the average Vanguard fund has dropped
from 59 to 28 basis points, even as the industry's expense ratio has risen from 99 basis points to 125 (Chart 5). Thus our
margin of advantage has risen from 40 basis points to almost 100by
two and one-half timesan 80% competitive advantage in unit costs. This
advantage is pervasivein our U.S. and international stock funds alike;
in our balanced funds; in our tax-exempt and taxable bond funds; and in our
money market funds. After all, given Vanguard's unique mutual structure, we
have two ways of earning profits for our shareholders: investing in portfolios
of securities that provide generous long-term returns; and minimizing the
drag of intermediation costs so as to provide the highest possible portion
of those returns. Within this structure, in our service-profit chain the profits
of investing go to our shareholders.
Source: Vanguard, Lipper Inc.
As the world has slowly come to learn: costs matter.
Costs matter because the benefits of lower costs are huge: a 100 basis point
advantage applied to our $500 billion-plus asset base produces annual savings
of $5 billion for shareholders. Costs matter because they represent a diversion
of the returns of the financial markets from investors to investment managers.
(Where are the customers'or should I say, clients'yachts?)
And costs matter because lower costs lead
directly to higher returnsa link that
is readily calculable.
Investment Strategy and Low Cost
The magic of low costand it is
no less than magicis the core of our service-profit-stewardship mission,
a crucial link in the chain. For our long-term investment philosophy, combined
with our simple investment strategies, depends on cost-effectiveness. We are
the innovators of the two investment strategies that have come to dominate
our asset base, now representing $350 billion, or nearly 70%, of our $500
billion-plus total (Chart 6). Both strategies, in essence, represent the classic
difference between the hedgehog and the fox. "The fox knows many things,"
Archilochus told us 2200 years ago, "but the hedgehog knows one great thing."
In an industry filled with brilliant, sly, ambitious, impatient, high-cost
investment manager-foxes, trading portfolio securities with a vengeance and
ever seeking the holy grail represented by outpacing the financial markets,
we are the principal hedgehog. We know the one great
thing: that the closest we will get to that holy grail will come by owning
a widely diversified portfolio of high-quality stocks (or bonds) that effectively
represents the market, trading those securities only when absolutely necessary,
and operating at low cost.
Our best-known strategy, of course, is stock market indexing. We now
manage 28 index funds (including four bond index funds and six balanced index
funds), but more than 75% of our $210 billion in index fund assets is represented
by two funds modeled on the S&P 500®
Index, and one modeled on the Wilshire 5000®
Total Stock Market Index. We pioneered the first index mutual fund in 1975,
our level of conviction reflected in the fact that, following our commencing
operations in May of that year, it was Vanguard's very first business decision.
As it has turned out, indexing was a transforming decision for the firm, the
apotheosis of all we stand for in linking cost and valuelow
cost and high value, inextricably intertwined.
Our defined-asset class fixed-income strategy, while far less renowned,
has been equally effective for investors. Our bond and money market funds
now constitute $140 billion of our assets. Just as our indexing strategy reflects,
finally, a skepticism that any firm, including
ours, can discover the holy grail of outpacing the stock marketand
then hang onto it for decades, which is every bit as importantso our
bond strategy strongly manifests a similar skepticism about the ability of any firm, including ours, to consistently and accurately
forecast changes in interest rates. As a result, when we joined the wave of
new municipal bond funds in 1977, we followed, not the conventional path of
forming a "managed" municipal bond fund, but created, for the first time in
mutual fund history, a three-tier bond funda long-term series, a short-term
series, and (this will hardly surprise you!) an intermediate-term series.
We would win by approximating the precost returns of the benchmarks of each
sector of the bond market, then keeping our costs at the industry nadir and
maintaining quality at the industry pinnacle. Result: The delivery of outstanding
bond returns to our shareholders.
If this simple strategy hardly sounds to you like genius at work, you
are very perceptive! No more genius, indeed, than the basic mathematics of
indexing: Earning the market's return at low cost trumps
earning the market's return at high cost. It's been said that all
I've ever had going for me is, "the uncanny ability to recognize the obvious."
For better or worse, I accept that criticism. (Or was it intended as praise?)
But our indexing and bond strategies, radical for their time and once considered
heresy, have now become dogma. And in the marketplace, they have proven, using
the current lingo, to be the "killer apps" of the mutual fund business.
Our huge cost advantage has the effect of nicely elevating Vanguard
fund performance relative to the performance of our peers. In U.S. equity
funds, over the past five years, for example, our average ranking rose from
the 41st percentile to the 28th, and international funds, from 68 to 54 (Chart
7). For balanced funds, from 29 to 21. (It gets harder to improve when a fund
is already near the top quartile.) For taxable bonds, from 33 to 11; tax-exempt
bonds, from 74 to 31. And for money market funds, our percentile soars from
the 61st to the 5th. "Out of the commonplace into the rare" might be a fair
description of the thrust that low cost delivers to our performance leadership.
Source: Lipper Inc.
Given what we observe in most competitive industriesand the mutual
fund industry is ferociously competitive in all respects save one, the setting
of priceswe might expect our competitive edge in cost to be challenged.
But it is not. No fund leader, as far as I can tell, has looked at the market
share numbers, called a meeting of his senior officers, and said: "These guys
are eating our lunch! Let's take them on, toe to toe! Now!" That hasn't happened.
Why? Because taking on Vanguard would require aggressively challenging us
with low-cost index funds, low-cost bond and money market funds, and low-cost
conservative stock funds focused on long-term investing. The fact is that
the returns of the clients of our rivalstheir fund shareholderswould
be markedly enhanced, but the returns of their own management firms would
be slashedno matter how much their market share
improved. In the face of the competitive edge we have created,
the industry's silence has been, well, deafening. Their service-profit chain,
simply put, is different from ours. For there's no profit for fund managers,
or so it seems, in giving their clientsthe owners
of their fundsa fair shake.
Low Cost Fosters Service Leadership
But what of our service leadership? The fact is that our service leadership
in the mutual fund industry has been achieved, not despite
our low costs, but because of our low costs.
To explain this seeming contradiction, I must explain the basic economics
that underlie our cost advantage. It will cost about $1.15 billion to operate
Vanguard this year. With average assets in the $480 billion range, our ratio
of expenses to assets will be 0.28%. The average mutual fund complex, as we
have seen, operates at a ratio of 1.25%. I'm going to sketch out very roughly
(there is no reliable industry data) where that 97 basis point advantage is
Voilà! A staggering 97-basis-point
cost advantageone, as I have noted, that truly matters
in the results we deliver to investors (Chart 8).
- About 45 basis points, very
roughly speaking, is derived from the fact that under our mutual structure,
we operate on an at-cost basis for our fund investors,
while our competition operates at a pretax profit margin estimated at 40%
to the fund managers.
- Another 25 basis points reflects the enormous marketing expenditures
of our peers, compared to our nominal efforts. (Why spend the shareholders'
assets on a function that provides no value to them?)
- We probably pick up another 15 basis points by managing 70%
of our assets internally, and by vigorously negotiating the fees we pay to
our external advisers, while our peers negotiate fees with themselves (that
situation, in Warren Buffett's words, "seldom produces a barroom brawl").
- The remaining 12 basis points comes from administration, reflecting
some combination of the economies of scale that go hand-in-hand with our giant
size, and the sheer cheapness that underlies our low-cost philosophy.
The resulting $5 billion that our shareholders save annually reflects
a cost advantage so stupefyingly large that we have the flexibility to spend as we must in order to provide top-quality
services to our shareholders. We all know what quality is in this business: accuracy, timeliness, responsiveness, problem
resolution, presentation, simplicity, courtesy, professionalism, and empathy
are some of the words that come to mind. In this day and age, investor expectations
of quality service are staggering, and the number of different ways that different
individuals want different accounts in different funds handled is almost beyond
belief. But in a shareholder-owned organization like Vanguard, our investors
are entitled to have their expectations not merely met, but exceeded. In a
world where the desideratum is "treat your customer like an owner," an organization
in which the client actually is the owner
"Penny Wise and Pound Foolish"?
Let me put some dollars-and-cents meat on the bones of these ratios
to show you how much we have had to spend to handle our present growth, to
invest for our future growth, and to maintain our cutting edge in service
quality. Five years ago, our annual expenditures were about $480 million$400
million for operations plus $80 million of fees to our external investment
advisers. This year we will spend about $1.3 billion,
some $1.15 billion for our own operations and $150 million in advisory fees.
Our own budget, then, has risen by $750 million, nearly tripling in just five
yearshardly a sign of being, as the old saw goes, "penny wise and pound
Much of this increase arises from providing services to 14 million shareholder
accounts rather than six million. But much reflects the huge increase required
to maintain and enhance service quality, including heavy spending on technology,
now approaching, in very rough terms, one-third of our budget. We have been
blessed by having our average assets burgeon during this bull market periodrising
from $150 billion to $485 billionenabling us to support our efforts
without impinging on our low expense ratio. Indeed, our weighted fund expense
ratio, 28 basis points in 1999, has eased downward from 30 basis points in
1994. That two-point decline, coming in a period in which the expense ratios
of our major competitors have risen by 20
basis points (to 125), we are doing just fine. But if we had to spend, say,
an extra $100 million on technology this year, it would raise our expense
ratio by only two basis points, a change that the world would little note
nor long remember. (But we would notice.
So I assure you that our severe cost discipline remains intact.)
The point is that our huge expense ratio advantage enables us to spend
what is required to provide state-of-the-art financial servicesservices
that meet and, ideally, exceedthe ever-growing expectations of our
clients. It also enables us to pay our crew members fairly, for our success
depends on a terrific effort from each of the 10,000-plus human beings who
serve on our crew. We offer competitive salaries, to which we add an extraordinary
benefits program. On top of that, we provide
the Vanguard Partnership Plan, affording each crew member, from his or her
first day on the job, ownership in units in a partnership. Earnings are based
on a formula driven by the dimension of our cost advantage and the performance
of our funds relative to their peers. By so doing, we share a small portion
of our clients' extra earnings with those who labor ceaselessly on their behalf.
The Partnership Plan reemphasizes to our crew the low-cost mission that is
central to all we do, focuses crew members on operational efficiency and cooperation,
and drives home the message that providing more-than-competitive returns to
our shareholders is essential to our growth, indeed to our survival.
For to build a successful firm, it takes moreyes, it does!than
killer apps like index funds, structured fixed-income funds, and low-cost
actively managed equity funds. Please never forget that it takes a focus on human beingsas I've said 1,000 times over, "honest-to-God,
down-to-earth human beings with their own hopes and fears and objectives"to
implement a winning corporate strategy. The first step is to recognize that
each one of our clients is an individual
human being. We may know much about our client's investment goals, but we
must never forget that investment success is as much based on human emotions as on economics.
So, it is our responsibility to explain with complete candor what investing
is about: investment returns, which we must acknowledge we cannot control; and asset allocation, risk, cost, and time, the control of each of
which lies at our fingertips. A focus on human beings, furthermore, requires
that we act with integrity, earning the confidence of our clients that we
will place their interests ahead of our own. Add to that list fair-dealing,
not only fair prices and fair limitations on how and when and in what portfolios
clients may invest, but focusing our energies on activities that serve clientsmanagement,
investing, administration, financial controlsrather than those that
do not, such as marketing and peripheral business ventures. If we truly respect
the human beings who are our clients, they will come to entrust us with the
stewardshipa word too seldom used in this industry todayof their
Placing service to the human beings who are our clients at the top of
our priority list is easily said. It may even seem obvious, although rare
indeed does the phrase "human beings" appear in a book on corporate strategy,
or on competitive advantage, or even "killer applications." But I confess
that back when Vanguard began a quarter century ago, I never thought very
deeply about human beings as the central focus of our corporate strategy.
Nonetheless, for as long as I can remember, I've held high the ideal of respecting
all of the souls one meets along the long and winding road of lifefrom
the highest in rank to the humblestwith respect, decency, and kindness.
This spirit must not encompass only clients, but crew members, and with equal
fervor. When Vanguard's maiden voyage beganalmost from ground zero,
with just 28 crew membersit occurred to me that, in a fiercely competitive
field, there was only one way we would ever accomplish our novel and challenging
That philosophy has been at the core of everything we've done since.
It's called loyalty. But however loyalty may be indicated into a firm's values
and character, the one message that must come through is: Loyalty
is not a one-way street. No enterprise, no matter what endeavor
it pursues, has any right to ask for loyalty from those who do the hard work
required for its success without a reciprocal commitment that the enterprise
will offer its own loyalty in return. If an institution is to care for its
clients, it must care too about the human beings who assume the responsibility
for serving them. The members of the crew are the heart and soul of the enterprise;
without their care and effort, the enterprise will fail.
CaringAnd Caring Deeply
In my frequent speeches to our crew, I have often cited this marvelous
quotation from Dean Howard M. Johnson, former chairman of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, on the need for individual human beings to care for
the institutions of which we are a part:
"We need people who care about the institution. In an increasingly impersonal
world, I have come to believe that a deep sense of caring for the institution
is requisite for its success.
"The institution must be the object of intense human care and cultivation:
even when it errs and stumbles, it must be cared forby all who own
it, all who serve it, all who are served by it, all who govern it.
"Caring, we know, is an exacting and demanding business. It requires
not only interest and compassion and concern; it demands self-sacrifice, wisdom
and tough-mindedness, and discipline. Every responsible person must care,
and care deeply, about the institutions that touch his life."
So, if we ask those who work at Vanguard to treat their institution
with carethe better to ensure that it meets the needs of the human
beings we serve as clientswe must in turn treat our crew with care.
The Human Organization and Service
In our efforts to create a human organization, our compensation strategy,
as I've noted, plays a key role. Yes, our Partnership Plan serves to assure
that the crew focuses on our corporate goals, but, equally important, it also
generates a powerful sense of loyalty among the crew members by emphasizing
that they are the human beings who are the key to our success. Similarly,
our Award for Excellence program, now going into its 16th year, has had the
same focus. In this increasingly impersonal era, an era in which bureaucracy
and technology threaten to obscure the contribution of the individual human
being, the Award for Excellence is a tribute to individual effort. Numerous
tokens accompany the awarda pin, a check, theater tickets, a contribution
to a favorite charity. But the most treasured symbol is a plaque, on which
remains the saying that I placed there 15 years ago: "I
believe that even one person can make a difference." One personnow
multiplied 10,000 times overstill can, and still does, make a difference
The simple fact of the matter is that unstinting service has, by driving
client loyalty, driven Vanguard's growth. Included in our service goals is
providing mutual funds that satisfy the client's need for, and right to, the
highest possible investment value, the highest
possible profits, if you will. While we've done all in our power to win the
loyalty of our crew members as well, a sort of virtuous circle has emerged:
The constant expression of client satisfaction about performance and service
to our crew members has reinforced their
satisfaction that they are working for the right kind of company. (And not
only for those on the front line. In 1987, we developed a program under which
virtually all crew members are trained to
handle telephone inquiries from shareholders when call volumes soar. Mindful
of European history, I named it "The Swiss Army.")
From my experience with our Vanguard crew, I'm shameless in my belief
that innumerable numbers of America's superb force of working men and women
are, finally, idealists. They enjoy serving their fellow human beings; they
revel in a sense of mission; they seek a career in an enterprise where integrity
and candor are the watchwords; and when they interface with clients, and fellow
crew members, and friends who know of our reputation, they feel proud of their
life's chosen work. No matter what the enterprise, please never underestimate
the importance of pride as a driver of the commitment of the members of its
crew. I'm an idealist too, and, shameless though it may be, I don't apologize
for it. It really seems to work.
The Right Thing to Do
As Vanguard's founder, my leadership role has changed dramatically over
the years. I'm not sure that I ever could have articulated the concept described
in "Putting The Service-Profit Chain to Work" in the Harvard
Business Review. Nor did I ever coherently attempt to build what
that article describes as, "a corporate culture centered around services to
customers and fellow employees." But as I look back over some 50 speeches
I've given to our dedicated crew over a quarter-century"If You Build
It, They Will Come" is but one exampleit seems clear in retrospect
that that is precisely what I was doing. But the reality is that I only did
what came to me naturally as a human being. It was the right
thing to do. There just may be an important message here!
At the outset, my focus was on providing the right types of funds that
would meet investor needs. If no one else had thought of them, well, it would
be up to us to create themthe first S&P 500 stock index fund, then
the defined asset-class bond funds, then more stock index funds and the first
bond index funds, then the tax-managed funds. All were ideas that anyone could
have implemented, but, given our focus on low-cost, we alone had both opportunity and motive. Offering "the majesty of simplicity in
an empire of parsimony," is one way that I have described our strategy. For
focusing heavily on controlling costs was also at a top priority. We knew
that we had to reach low-cost provider status (it took only about five years)
both because it would work in assuring outstanding
relative investment returns, and because it was the right thing to do for
our clients. And our Partnership Plan served the purposeand not a moment
too soonof making it clear to crew members that while low cost was
crucial, it wasn't antithetical to their own financial interests. The Plan
provided a clear link between crew satisfaction and client satisfaction, with
crew members earning incentives step by step with enhanced profits for our
shareholders as our expense ratio declines and our asset base grows. Yes,
the Plan built loyalty. But it was also the right thing to do for our crew.
Today, I am still brimming with investment ideas. Most of them, as ever,
are founded on skepticism about the existing financial canon. But the original
ideas on which Vanguard has been built will remain at our core. For all their simplicity, these investment ideas and human values
are not only enduring, but eternal. Today, my self-appointed role
is to carry on the mission to give fund investors everywhere a fair shake,
writing, speaking, teaching, and dreaming of ways to improve their lot. But,
as I've done from Vanguard's first day, I continue to do my share in forging
key links in our "service-profit chain" by corresponding with shareholders,
sitting down with them, exchanging ideas, encouraging them, and, increasingly,
talking to them over the Internet. The "Bogleheads" website at Morningstar
is hard to resist.
And, as our empire of crew members burgeons in number to 10,000 and
beyond, I continue to spend time each day with individuals and small groups.
What a joy! To meet and talk and get to know one another just a little better,
to do my best to hold back the inevitable rush of bureaucracy, to keep the
Vanguard character as close as possible to the human values that have, well, "made a difference" over the years. To this day, I eat virtually every luncheon
in our "Galley"no executive dining room there!among our crew
members. And I spend a full hour, one-on-one, with each Award for Excellence
winner. It is my way of trying to be that "one person who can make a difference" to those I meet.
My biggest thrill in recent years was providing each crew member with
a copy of Common Sense on Mutual Funds when it was published, and then offering to sign copies for any crew member
who wished. Well, I wrote "it," and "they" came. Nearly 5,000 signatures,
and 5,000 exchanges of a few kind words, and 5,000 handshakes later, the task,
to my eternal regret, was complete. While my missionat Vanguard and
in this industryis anything but complete,
that single book-signing event encapsulates a great deal of what the human
values at Vanguard's core for a quarter century have meant to our success.
In the powerful chain of "products," "service," and "profits" that we have
provided to the human beings who have become our clients, it is the human
beings on our crew who represent the essential link.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Vanguard's present management.
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