While I’m not a fervent believer in the “Great Man” theory of history, I do believe that individuals make a big difference in the history of the world, of nations and of families. Individuals certainly make a difference in our little corner of the world where independent advisors serve clients while building their businesses.
As part of Investment Advisor's 35th anniversary celebration in 2015, in our cover story this month we list the most influential people in and around the industry over the past 35 years. Not coincidentally, the founding and growth of Investment Advisor and ThinkAdvisor.com parallel the founding and growth of the independent advisor movement, which was made possible by companies, yes, and technology, sure, and likely even broader cultural change. But it was people like Chuck Schwab who made the RIA business a possibility by founding what was then a “discount broker” that fairly rapidly morphed into a platform through which advisors could conduct business.
I’d argue that someone like Benjamin Graham laid the groundwork for “independence from Wall Street” through his writings. That Bill Sharpe proved excellent investment theory could be married to cutting-edge technology. That Sheryl Garrett proved you could successfully offer services to lower-net-worth clients.
In addition to being executives and researchers, they also were mentors. Warren Buffett is perhaps Graham's most famous mentee. Mark Tibergien has an entire platoon of mentees from his days at Moss Adams through his current gig at Pershing Advisor Solutions. They also tend to have collaborators—think David Dodd for Graham, and Barney Frank and Chris Dodd—and have carefully groomed successors—think Tom Nally by Tom Bradley, Amy Webber by Eric Schwartz, Wayne Bloom by Joe Deitch.
It's no accident that many on our admittedly subjective list are drawn to the teaching profession—Moshe Milevsky, Deena Katz, Wade Pfau, Daniel Kahneman, Gene Fama, Harold Evensky, Ben Bernanke—while others have a clear academic bent in contributing to and learning from academic research, like Angie Herbers and Michael Kitces.
That's another thing about the IA 35: They share an intellectual curiosity that includes a willingness to have their beliefs challenged. I’ll never forget how Cliff Asness, not known as a champion of indexing, lauded John Bogle at an Institute for the Fiduciary Standard lunch in 2013. In a “world riddled with confirmation bias,” Asness said, Bogle would seriously consider well-reasoned arguments even on positions that he would naturally disagree with.
While any successful, influential person must have a healthy ego, I’d also argue that most of the members of the IA 35 share a certain modesty. I say “most” because we also named Bernie Madoff to the list. Not all influence is positive, and the effects of his treachery will influence legislators—and investors’ trust levels—for a long time to come.
Throughout this anniversary year, we’re looking at the future, and in our profiles of the IA 35 (in the magazine you’re holding and extended versions on ThinkAdvisor.com), we also asked the honorees about the years to come.
In an interview with Danielle Andrus, executive managing editor of this magazine, honoree Moshe Milevsky put it well. “Forecasting the future is a mug's game,” Milevsky said. “If you ask people, ‘What made you successful?’ [...] they’d probably answer, ‘I stayed away from predicting the future. I’ve tried to adapt to it or shape it.’”
All of our honorees have done just that over the past 35 years, and continue to adapt, and shape, the future. Congratulations.