My first job out of graduate school was in December of 1970. One day I was sitting in class and the economics professor must have gone through three pieces of chalk writing this one formula and I thought, “You know, this isn’t very interesting.”
I talked to one of my professors from undergraduate school [at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota] and he said, “Have you ever thought about the trust investment business?” I said, “No, I didn’t even know that sort of thing existed.”
I came from a rural background in North Dakota. I had never heard of being an investment analyst.
I interviewed for a job in St. Paul. It was called First National Bank of St. Paul, and the First Trust Company was a separate trust affiliate. They gave me the job, and I was going to be an investment analyst.
To start, they had me go through a course through the New York Stock Exchange. It included some textbooks that had been around for years, and it essentially taught me about an industry I knew nothing about.
Our clients at First Trust Company were many well-to-do families. We were charged with investing their money to make a reasonable return without taking a lot of risks. My job, to start, was to look at the finances of the container industry. At that time, there were just a few, and these were all companies that used to be a part of the industrial heartland of the U.S.
I was there only about three years and then I went to another trust company. It was part of Norwest Bank, which is now Wells Fargo. In that job, I not only did research, but I was also the portfolio manager at 25 years old.
It was a very difficult time, from 1973 to 1980. We had very high inflation, very low valuations, and a lot of people’s wealth was really stagnating. I kept reminding myself that over the long run, the U.S. economy tends to want to grow and as long as it’s growing, even at a slow pace, wealth is being created every day. Our job is really to make sure we’re invested in the right things.
I learned that it’s really difficult to sell me an idea. You’ve got to know what’s going on in the company and you’ve got to feel comfortable with it. I want to be sort of like Warren Buffett, where I’m putting my money to work in things that are real live companies that are going to grow over time.
—As told to Melanie Pagan