How to Turn $11 Million into $1 Billion

In a 2000 article published in Money, Jason Jweig profiled a remarkable investor and friend of Warren Buffett named Joseph Rosenfeld who oversaw the investment committee for Grinnel College, a small school in Iowa.

“Joe,” says Buffett, “is a triumph of rationality over convention.” By ignoring the conventional wisdom about investing, Rosenfield has made money grow faster and longer than almost anyone else alive. Since 1968, he’s turned $11 million into more than $1 billion. He has heaped up those gains not with hundreds of rapid-fire trades but by buying and holding–often for decades. In 30 years, he’s made fewer than a half-dozen major investments and has sold even more rarely. [emphasis added] “If you like a stock,” says Rosenfield, “you’ve got to be prepared to hold it and do nothing.”

Here are the lessons from Joe Rosenfeld as summarized by Jason Jweig.

Do a few things well. Rosenfield built a billion-dollar portfolio not by putting a little bit of money into everything that looked good but by putting lots of money into a few things that looked great. Likewise, if you find a few investments you understand truly well, buy them by the bucketful. However, I think Rosenfield is a rare exception. Without his kind superior knowledge, skill and connections, most of us mere mortals need to diversify broadly across cash, bonds, and U.S. and foreign stocks.

Sit still. If you find investments that you clearly understand, hold on. Since it was their long-term potential that made you buy them in the first place, you should never let a short-term disappointment spook you into selling. Patience–measured not just in years but in decades–is an investor’s single most powerful weapon. Witness Rosenfield’s fortitude: In 1990, right after he bought Freddie Mac, the stock dropped 27%-. Rosenfield never panicked. Instead, he just waited. “Joe invests without emotion,” says Buffett, “and with analysis.

Invest for a reason. Rosenfield is a living reminder that wealth is a means to an end, not an end in itself. His only child died in 1962, and his wife died in 1977. He has given much of his life and all of his fortune to Grinnell College. “I just wanted to do some good with the money,” he says. That’s a lesson for all of us. Instead of blindly striving to make our money grow–or measuring our worth by our possessions–each of us should pause and ask: What good is my money if I never do some good with it? Is there a way to make my wealth live on and do honor to my name?

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