A Great Leader

Who is a great leader?  The answer is, of course, “it depends.” It depends on what we mean when we say, “great.” It depends on what we mean when we say, “leader.” And it depends on whether who is asking the question and who is giving the answer share values somewhat similar.

But, every now and then someone comes along who breaks this general rule. Who by virtually every definition of the word “leader,” and by virtually every definition of the word “great,” and by virtually every conception of what is meant when the words “great” and “leader” are paired, fits the bill. Such a man died this week. His name was John Bogle.

Though he lived a long time, and though his impact on the American consumer was immeasurable, Bogle’s was not a household name. Mostly this was because his interest was not in fame or in wealth, and because he eschewed any kind of personal aggrandizement or professional ostentation. Nevertheless, among those who pay attention to how ordinary people protect their assets in the generally rapacious financial services industry, Bogle’s name was legend. He is the man credited with devising and then popularizing the low-cost index mutual funds that put billions more dollars into the pockets of millions more people. People who would otherwise have been charged high fees for services that were somewhat similar – though riskier as well as more expensive.

By the time he died, index funds, once tagged “Bogle’s folly,” constituted almost 50% of all mutual-fund assets. But the ultimate measure of the man is not quantitative, but qualitative. Personally, he was of the highest integrity, an exemplar of a man with a strong moral compass. Professionally, his contribution was transformative, enabling generations to save efficiently and to achieve financial security.

John Bogle was by any conceivable measure great. And he was by any conceivable definition a leader.


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