Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 147

Leadership skills of a crusading communicator

This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the leadership attributes that can help the superannuation industry move from its historical emphasis on accumulation to a whole-of-life focus and particularly on retirement income provision.

If one person is renowned in funds management globally as a leader who truly made a difference, it must be Vanguard Group Founder, Jack Bogle. Over a career spanning seven decades, Jack not only created a company that has become the world’s largest mutual fund company, but profoundly influenced millions of investors and the industry itself.

I had the great privilege to work directly with Jack over the 16-year US-based component of my Vanguard career and have maintained close contact ever since. I saw up-close the many dimensions of a great leader.

Jack demonstrated exceptional leadership in many ways. The most obvious include his organisational design leadership in creating Vanguard in 1975 as a ‘mutual’ fund company, operating at-cost, solely in the interests of its investor owners. It’s a unique structure in the US which has allowed Vanguard to assert price leadership and, over time, become the lowest cost mutual fund provider. Jack is, of course, well known also for product leadership, as the creator of the first index mutual fund (in 1976), among a number of other significant product innovations. Further, he has been an investment leader by articulating a clear ‘common sense’ philosophy for investors to follow. And, he has demonstrated moral leadership in countless ways, but mostly by speaking out on what’s right for investors, and what isn’t, and by making the case for a greater fiduciary and a lesser sales attitude within the industry.

Leadership in communications to build trust

However, to pick just one leadership strength that fascinates me and is relevant to all leaders in our industry, I’ll focus this article on his communications leadership. Jack Bogle has been a remarkable and tireless communicator over many decades. Communications counts in investment services and superannuation, much more than most people credit. We’re dealing with an intangible service. We must build trust. The fundamental source of trust is communication and actions that correspond to the communications. The ‘talk’ then ‘walking the talk’.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Vanguard became a dominant retail firm, after having abandoned the commissioned broker sales force which built its predecessor, the Wellington Funds. Vanguard would go ‘direct’ and a strong voice was needed to articulate a winning proposition for fund investors. Jack believed the consumer would be king and would somehow find their way to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania if we built the proverbial ‘better mousetrap’. But someone had to tell them about it, long before the days of social media and viral campaigns. Vanguard, the low cost provider with little money to spend on marketing, had to get the word out.

Jack started with the existing client base. He made sure they knew what he and Vanguard stood for. He personally wrote a letter in all client investment reports. He replied directly to every client who wrote to him. (It’s amazing how powerful it is when the Chief Executive writes a personal letter to a client, particularly when it’s beautifully articulate and elegant.)

He made it clear what investment philosophy Vanguard stood for. He talked common sense, not investment gobbledygook. He differentiated Vanguard’s investment beliefs from those of the masses by focusing on long-term investing and keeping costs low. And he made sure it was a consistent body of investment beliefs that investors could adopt for themselves.

Beyond the client base, he worked hard to create a distinctive voice for Vanguard in the marketplace. It was his voice. It was strong, insistent and opinionated but common sense, and it was emotionally appealing to consumers. He sought press attention and, because he gave them a strong story, he got the attention, time and again. There’s nothing quite like free and positive press to get a direct business going.

What’s the evidence that communication mattered? Firstly, despite its modest marketing budget, Vanguard began picking up market share. Secondly, the growth of indexing in retail investors’ portfolios went from nothing to trillions today. There is no question in my mind that without Jack Bogle’s advocacy of indexing caused the swelling of retail indexing usage we’ve seen over the past three decades. Third, as Jack likes to say: “you can’t be a leader without followers.” Jack has millions of followers, even a fan club, called the Bogleheads.

Remarkably, Jack didn’t stop his communications push with investors once he stepped down as CEO. He has now written 10 books, and tells me he’s working on his 11th (at age 86!).

Lessons for retirement income providers

One of our greatest leadership needs – as we go beyond an accumulation-focused industry – is to communicate in a powerful way with our members. We have to be agents of change and we’re going to need our best communications skills to bring members with us.

In helping our members manage the transition to retirement here are some of the communications challenges we face:

  • Switching the members’ focus from balances and lump sums to sustainable retirement incomes
  • Engaging them with the need to build an adequate nest-egg when today’s compulsory contribution levels are patently insufficient
  • Conveying to the members our intention (and ability) to help them during retirement
  • Helping members at retirement make the right choices with the difficult task of deciding how to invest for a sustainable retirement income
  • Guiding members through market cycles when they no longer have access to salary income. In Jack Bogle’s lingo, helping them “stay the course”
  • Earning members’ trust so that they are receptive to our help and advice.

How Bogle might approach the problem

You don’t have to tackle it like Jack Bogle, but here are a few lessons from close observation:

Have something to say and be different: Lack of substance doesn’t cut it. Bland doesn’t cut it. Jack was a crusading agent of change. He had strong beliefs and expressed strong opinions and was prepared to back them up. He sought to differentiate.

Convey passion and conviction: Show your audience you care and bring a sense of urgency to the matter. For Bogle, caring is an essential theme of leadership.

Respect communications: Too few executives think communication matters. They don’t put the work or time in that’s needed. They may just delegate it and pay little attention to the quality of the work of their communications department – and it shows. Jack loved communications having a deep respect for his audience and the English language.

Work hard at it: Communications is an art that improves with practice. Jack followed the preacher’s rule: 20 minutes of prep for every one minute of speech.

Be genuine: Admit your humanity. Make a connection. Be genuine. People know if you’re not the real deal. If you don’t really care about the investor, don’t pretend to.

Make the emotional connection: We tend towards dry rational thinking in our industry, but our audience is diverse and human and it values emotional connection. Bring your communications to life with stories, anecdotes, humanity. It is much more than logic and numbers.

Get your team on board: Don’t overlook the importance of great communications with your team. Jack shared his vision with his colleagues and convinced them to share his vision. He used an old-fashioned device, the speech, but he used it brilliantly. We all knew what Vanguard stood for.

Repeat (but stay fresh): Repeat the key messages over and over again. That’s how lessons sink in. Finding new and fresh ways of getting the key points across is a challenge but a worthy one.

Even if you’re not going to lead communications yourself, it’s essential that you build communications capabilities that allow your firm to lead. Jack’s successors totally respected the value of communications and expanded the institution’s abilities to communicate well with clients using newer media as the digital age dawned.

It’s going to take some crusaders to move this industry to a new focus on retirement incomes. And communications will be a powerful part of their armoury.


Jeremy Duffield is CoFounder of SuperEd. See He was the Managing Director and Founder of Vanguard Investments Australia, and he retired as Chairman in 2010.



Vale Jack Bogle


Most viewed in recent weeks

10 little-known pension traps prove the value of advice

Most people entering retirement do not see a financial adviser, mainly due to cost. It's a major problem because there are small mistakes a retiree can make which are expensive and avoidable if a few tips were known.

Check eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

Eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card has no asset test and a relatively high income test. It's worth checking eligibility and the benefits of qualifying to save on the cost of medications.

Hamish Douglass on why the movie hasn’t ended yet

The focus is on Magellan for its investment performance and departure of the CEO, but Douglass says the pandemic, inflation, rising rates and Middle East tensions have not played out. Vindication is always long term.

Start the year right with the 2022 Retiree Checklist

This is our annual checklist of what retirees need to be aware of in 2022. It is a long list of 25 items and not everything will apply to your situation. Run your eye over the benefits and entitlements.

At 98-years-old, Charlie Munger still delivers the one-liners

The Warren Buffett/Charlie Munger partnership is the stuff of legends, but even Charlie admits it is coming to an end ("I'm nearly dead"). He is one of the few people in investing prepared to say what he thinks.

Should I pay off the mortgage or top up my superannuation?

Depending on personal circumstances, it may be time to rethink the bias to paying down housing debt over wealth accumulation in super. Do the sums and ask these four questions to plan for your future.

Latest Updates

Investment strategies

Three ways index investing masks extra risk

There are thousands of different indexes, and they are not all diversified and broadly-based. Watch for concentration risk in sectors and companies, and know the underlying assets in case liquidity is needed.

Investment strategies

Will 2022 be the year for quality companies?

It is easy to feel like an investing genius over the last 10 years, with most asset classes making wonderful gains. But if there's a setback, companies like Reece, ARB, Cochlear, REA Group and CSL will recover best.


2022 outlook: buy a raincoat but don't put it on yet

In the 11th year of a bull market, near the end of the cycle, some type of correction is likely. Underneath is solid, healthy and underpinned by strong earnings growth, but there's less room for mistakes.


Time to give up on gold?

In 2021, the gold price failed to sustain its strong rise since 2018, although it recovered after early losses. But where does gold sit in a world of inflation, rising rates and a competitor like Bitcoin?

Investment strategies

Global leaders reveal surprises of 2021, challenges for 2022

In a sentence or two, global experts across many fields are asked to summarise the biggest surprise of 2021, and enduring challenges into 2022. It's a short and sweet view of the changes we are all facing.


2021 was a standout year for stockmarket listings

In 2021, sharemarket gains supported record levels of capital raisings and IPOs in Australia. The range of deals listed here shows the maturity of the local market in providing equity capital.


Let 'er rip: how high can debt-to-GDP ratios soar?

Governments and investors have been complacent about the build up of debt, but at some level, a ceiling exists. Are we near yet? Trouble is brewing, especially in the eurozone and emerging countries.



© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.