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Relentless: Remembering Jack Bogle

What really defined Jack Bogle--perhaps because it was his most relatable quality--was his sheer determination, writes Morningstar's Jeff Ptak.

I last saw Jack Bogle in person three months ago. I was at Vanguard headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania, to interview him for an upcoming investment conference we were holding in Mumbai, India. As it happened, he’d spent that entire morning in Vanguard’s production studio, filming one video after another, the two segments prior to mine being acceptance speeches for awards he’d been bestowed. At 89 years of age, he’d lost none of his vigor.

I greeted him that day as I always had, the way you greet your hero: “Good morning, Mr. Bogle,” I said, “Thank you so much for doing this for us.” The response came in a voice that was a bit more gravelly than usual, but in the familiar baritone: “Jeff, I’m happy to. And call me JACK!” he said in mock indignation, smiling. For as many times as I’d met Jack, and as many times as I called him “Mr. Bogle,” with all due reverence, he’d responded the same way: “Call me, Jack!” And so it was this day. For Jack Bogle was nothing if not insistent.

To be sure, he was way more than insistent: an incandescently brilliant intellect; a savvy businessman; a charismatic leader; a gifted author, analyst, and speaker; he was all of these things. But what really defined Jack Bogle to me--perhaps because it was his most relatable quality--was his sheer determination. His relentlessness. The guy would not quit. When the index fund was just a kernel of an idea; when The Vanguard Group was an obscurity; when putting the investor first was a twee, fanciful notion; when his heart gave out; when “retirement” threatened to consign him to irrelevance; when the frailties of age crept upon him. Whatever, whenever, he didn’t waver. He pressed on.

And on we pressed that morning. Jack squared away a few details with his research assistant before our interview commenced, jotting down notes about price/earnings multiples, rates of earnings growth, dividend yields, and the like. What a tableau it was: Here was one of the giants of our industry, who’d built a financial colossus in Vanguard and improved the lives of millions of investors ... cramming for our interview. But it came as no surprise, really, for the night before, as I prepared to board my flight to Philadelphia, he’d phoned me at the airport, asking for the particulars I wanted to cover and jokingly seeking reassurance that I wouldn’t be quizzing him on the intricacies of the Indian mutual fund market. It was a reminder that for all of his stature, Jack took nothing for granted and demanded excellence, of himself most of all.

That exacting standard, and the public-service ethos that seemed to energize it, animated much of what Jack stood for. He could be proud, pugnacious, and, at times, a scold. He had a healthy self-regard and actively sought to cement the way his place in the industry and legacy came to be viewed. (His legacy--as an agent for enormous good--has long been secure, not that he rested on that amid ceaseless research, writing, and other appearances in recent years.) I didn’t have to know Jack well, which I didn’t, to appreciate these complexities and recognize that they were intrinsic to who he was and what he’d accomplished, not irreconcilable from it. There’d not be a Vanguard, after all, if there wasn’t a Jack Bogle simmering with ambition and a desire to crush the competition.

He brought that same intensity and engagement to our interview, which went great; Jack was funny, insightful, and opinionated--the perfect subject. Afterward, as we discussed the segment, he couldn’t have been more gracious, saying he thought it went well, which was exactly the encouragement I needed at that moment (as we were on a tight deadline). Basking in that and discussing some of the production details with members of the video crew afterward, I lost track of him. He’d slipped away, no doubt bound for his office.

I didn’t get a chance to thank him; to say how much it meant to have the chance to chat with him; to say goodbye.

And so this will have to do: Goodbye, Mr. Bogle. It was a privilege to know you. Thanks for everything.

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