“Rule Breaker Investing” Brings Back Insight on Being a For-Person, the Challenges of Selling a Business, and More

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In this edition of the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner rummages around in the archives to bring back five standout Rule Breaker insights to improve your investing, business, and life.
Featured blast from the past topics:

  1. Style-boxing

  2. Add up; don’t double down

  3. Navigating the emotional and practical challenges of selling a business

  4. The power of being a “for” person

  5. Ron Washington’s lesson: character matters

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center . To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks . A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on May 08, 2024.

David Gardner: I try never to say never. But I’m nearly there with a few things. One would be running for public office. I’m more drawn to the platform of my company, The Motley Fool, striving to make the world smarter, happier, and richer. I see immense value in what I call private service. That’s work I see done in the private sector every day by thousands of people that I know serving others through the private sector, often finding it more enjoyable and rewarding than traditional public service. Not to demean it, but the phrase private service is rarely used. Another never for me is repeating a Rule Breaker Investing podcast. We’ve delivered a new podcast every week since July of 2015, 400 plus weeks without repetition. This approach suits me. I thrive on innovation rather than repetition. Another reason I wouldn’t work too well in politics since you’re supposed to say the same soundbite over and over from one zip code to the next, not for me. Yet continuously introducing new stories, new ideas, and frameworks can lead to sometimes neglecting the essential ones, the timeless truths, and that’s why a couple of times a year, I revisit and highlight key lessons in our Blast from the Past series, which ensures both new listeners and longtime listeners catch important takeaways, whether you’re hearing them for the first time or as a reminder from years ago. Blast from the Past, Volume 9. Only on this week’s Rule Breaker Investing.

Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. When I think about this series, Blast from the Past, this being the ninth, I think this might be a pretty effective short course in rule-breaking. As I mentioned, this is the ninth in this series, so I’ll be making five more points pulled from the past presented to you right here in the present. Nine episodes times five points, that’s 45 points made across this series. In fact, if you just start listening with my first Blast from the Past, which I did in 2018, and you just focus on these episodes, these nine, they take 45-60 minutes each. They’re pretty good CliffsNotes shortcut to learning how we think and act as Fools and as Rule Breakers, so there’s a pro tip. By the way, next week, it’s what have you learned from me? Thank you. It’s my birthday next week, and the annual birthday gift this podcast presents that you give me is to drop me a line. Rbi@fool.com is the email address. You can tweet me at RBIPodcast or @DavidGFool on Twitter. We look both places. Drop me a line. What have you learned from me through this podcast, either in the past month, or the past year, or over history? What have you learned?

At a root selfish level, I really appreciate that and love to hear it. It means a lot to me, but slightly more magnanimously, it also creates a pretty good podcast in the middle of May every year because when you summarize the points that have been learned, speaking of short courses, it’s a pretty good way to understand the root lessons and the really important takeaways that have come through Rule Breaker Investing, whether it’s the podcast, or online services, or stock picks made over the years, so whether it’s from investing, or business, or life, I love to hear all of them. This means a lot. It usually leads to a pretty great podcast, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you next week. What have you learned from me? Drop me a line. Now five points, five blasts from the past, and the last time I did this, which was actually in January of this year, I started to organize them by investing points, then business points, then life points, so that’s what we’re going to do. I’ve got two investing, one business, and two life on this episode’s Blast from the Past.

Let’s start with investing as always. Blast from the Past Number 1: This one comes from December 9th, 2015, that Rule Breaker Investing podcast, just three months in for this podcast. You can go back and listen to it if you like or listen to my blast right now. It was entitled Style Boxing, and here’s how the story goes. One summer at Fool HQ, we had a Russian-American intern, and I said to him over an intern lunch, how did you get started, Igor? In fact, I wish every 19-20-year-old was as thoughtful and as smart, and really wise beyond his years about investing with his own money. I wish everyone could be Igor in a sense, so I said, how do you do it? He said back, my mentor? You mean the one who got me started investing? I said, yeah. He said it was a guy a year ahead of me at college. I said, well, that’s great. I’d like to hear a little bit more about that. Igor said, well, the funny thing is he’s no longer investing.

That was funny to me because Igor clearly understood the long term. That’s what investing is. He was getting all that, and he’d had a mentor, somebody who wasn’t much older than he was, but this particular fellow was no longer investing? What Igor said was that his friend had two things going on in his mind about investing. The first was he loved to find very early, so-called development stage companies to invest in. These companies that not only don’t have profits, but in some cases, they don’t even have revenues yet. These are very early stage companies, and his friend loved this kind of company, and it was part of the passion that his friend had about these companies that led him to want to teach others like Igor about investing. He loved development-stage companies. That was one of the two traits that marked his approach to investing. The second was he loved to go almost all in when he invested. He was a so-called focused investor. He had very few companies. When he found something that he liked and he believed in, he would pile what you and I might think of as an alarmingly high percentage of his money into those few ideas, and as I thought about that, and we’re going to talk about that style box framework in just a minute, I could see why his friend might not still be in the investing game anymore. It doesn’t really take a long time or that many iterations if you play the system I just described for you forward a little bit to see what’s going to happen. He might get it right a few times, but if you get it wrong, if you invest in a bad investment, you’re going to lose a lot of your money, and specifically when you’re targeting early stage development stage companies, it seems fairly likely that a few of those aren’t going to play out so very well, so from my standpoint, and I hope Igor agreed with me, I said, well, I’m not surprised that your mentor is no longer still in the game. That leads to thinking about style boxes.

Picture a two-by-two matrix. On the vertical y-axis, let’s put mature companies at the top and then write down below it early stage development stage companies at the bottom. That’s the y-axis. Mature companies at the top, early stage companies at the bottom, and then along the x-axis at the bottom, you’ve got the all-in focused investor on one side. That goes all the way over to the highly diversified investor on the other. Now, I realize this is a podcast. I don’t have big visuals for you, but I know you’re smart. I know you’ve got this in your head. If you’re following me, you can see that one of those four boxes says development-stage companies and all-in investing, and that, for me, seems a recipe for disaster. Now, the exact opposite is what’s going to lead to long-term success for Foolish investors. The box that says mature companies, and I like to be diversified as an investor. Too many of us who come especially new to the game of investing are in probably one of the wrong boxes in that simple four-box quadrant. It’s generally because we haven’t had that much experience or coaching. We may not have had a mentor who’s done this very well. In my own case, I was very fortunate to have a dad who totally understood this. He had me in the right one of those four boxes, the one I just mentioned, mature companies and being diversified. But if you don’t, it’s not necessarily easy to intuit yourself into the right box to be if you don’t have good coaching or guidance. I will say that over the course of time, I’ve had more and more love for emerging companies. I do like some development-stage companies. I somewhat shun very mature, sometimes stodgy to me, less interesting companies. I’ve progressed a little bit myself over the decades from where I started, but I think there’s no substitute for starting in a very conservative way, and thinking about finding really good companies that we all know. Last week on the podcast, we mentioned Hershey’s, what a great company, what a market beater over decades. What a simple decision to invest in the chocolate company and yet build nice diversification from that company to the next and have a widely diversified portfolio. T

hat’s one of the style boxes I wanted to share with you in this Blast from the Past. The one that I heard in my head as I listened to Igor, tell me the story of why his mentor who was maybe 20 or 21 years old, was no longer investing. But now I want to share with you a second style box to me, this is the key to Rule Breaker Investing, so we’ll call it, this is the Rule Breakers matrix. Now I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m about to say or do or think. I wouldn’t want you to oversimplify either, but anytime we’re talking about frameworks, whether it’s a four-box or a nine-box style box, it’s always going to oversimplify, of course. Think about other frameworks. I know a lot of us are familiar with Myers-Briggs. These are always, of course, somewhat oversimplified. Are you this letter or that one? Which box are you in? What we’re doing is we’re typing and we’re getting quick pattern recognition through coming up with types. If you ever watch golf, they’ll sometimes have the fly by of the whole hole. A drone takes you from the tee right out to the 18th green. It’s that fly by that I think good frameworks can give us, so I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m doing, but I’m going to share with you something that I hope you’ll understand and I hope is illuminating. I myself see two more axes. I’m going to call the y-axis here, long term at the top and short-term at the bottom and across the x-axis, we’re going to go with predictable on the left, right through to innovative on the right. What am I talking about here? Well, long term and short term are the terms over which you and I can play the game of investing or trading. If you’re thinking and acting long-term, I would say you’re an investor, you’re investing. That’s at the top of the y-axis. If you’re thinking or acting short-term, I would say you’re not investing. I would say you’re trading. Maybe I should have just said investing are trading, but it’s the same either way to me, it’s the time frame that you’re putting your capital into the markets.

Now along the bottom, we have the types of companies that you’re investing in. It’s not a perfect yin and yang here, but I would say that most companies either fall in the bucket of predictable rote going through the motion, doing that business. They might be an oil operations company or they might just be Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s going to be a company that’s staying within what you’d expect it to do. It might be innovative in its own way, by the way, but for the most part you and I wouldn’t point it out and say, wow, that’s a real innovator there. That is of course the predictable side of the x-axis. But over on the right, on the far side, are the innovators, the companies that are less predictable. There’s more risk associated with them, but there’s also much more opportunity associated with them as well. By the way, if you’ve ever worked with consultants who use these four-box frameworks, you know that of those four boxes, you always want to be in the upper right box, not any of the other three, so I’ve set it up that way so you can see where I think I am, where the investee approach I teach is, where rule-breakers live. We’re invested in the box that says long term, and the one that also says innovative companies. We’re way up in the far upper right of that box, ultra long-term and ultra innovative. Here’s why I think that’s magic. Here’s why I think it works. The reason is that there are very few other people in our box, very few other kids swimming in that same pool. It’s understandable because for a lot of people, when they think about innovation and technology, they’re thinking it’s all fly by-night. In fact, great investors like Warren Buffett have said in the past, they don’t invest in that area.

They don’t swim in that pool because it’s so unpredictable. They can’t know 10 years from now who’s really going to win the battle for leadership in drones or the Internet of Things or cloud computing, it’s just too hard to predict, so this type of a person does not even invest there. Then those who really do enjoy technology innovation, the bleeding edge, they’re often taking a lot of risk and they’re thinking much shorter term. When you hear people talk about tech stocks on CNBC, often it’s very short-term oriented and it sounds crazy to allow yourself to lose 20% on one of those stocks. People like author William O’Neil, the founder of Investor’s Business Daily, a longer time friend of the Fool, otherwise, very good investor, no longer living today, but William O’Neil used to counsel people to sell before you ever lose more than 7% on any stock. Yeah, that leads to very short-term action taking. By contrast, often the people who are long-term with their investing shun innovative companies because we can’t predict them. They tend to find mature, very predictable road businesses, the Hershey’s, if you will, of the world, they’re great companies. I’m not demeaning them, but I’m explaining their thinking. Often, they use phrases like value stocks or value investor, phrases I don’t use. They’re looking for a dividend players, like we talked about last week. There are a lot of people swimming in that pool, in that box. There are a lot of people there because the long-term investments that we make in mature companies are the predictable companies, and that’s why that box is so populated. There’s one thing that I’ve learned about games in game theory over the course of time, by the way. Malcolm Gladwell once wrote a great article How David Beats Goliath, makes us really clear. By the way, you can search online, Google, the New Yorker, and How David Beats Goliath.

You can reread Malcolm Gladwell’s great article from years ago, which subsequently turned into a full length book. Also, on a side note, you can search for that same title, How David Beats Goliath, because it was a title I used for a Rule Breaker Investing podcast on the very same topic. Anyway, how David beats Goliath is that David, while he’s playing the same game, in this case with David and Goliath we’ll say warfare, takes a totally different approach than the way that everyone else is doing it, and for that reason, he’s able to win. He’s able to win in that context, and Gladwell has lots of examples of underdogs that are consistently winning, and the way that underdogs typically are winning, and I think we’re underdogs, and I think we’re winning on the same field with the same rules, just taking a totally different stylistic style box approach. I’ve just shared with you as I close up the longest of my five Blast from the Pasts this podcast and maybe the most important one. I’ve just shared with you my matrix, which is that if you’re really fascinated by innovation, and these are your kinds of companies, one of the best things you can do is invest for the ultra long term. That’s because when so few other people are playing that game, they’re going to be the first to sell, I don’t know, Salesforce, if cloud computing has a bad month, which over the course of the last decade, it’s had some bad months or quarters. They’ll be the first to sell Monster Beverage when there’s an alarming, but largely over reported, somewhat misleading story. This is true, do you remember this? That energy drinks are killing people. It did happen. A couple of people had energy drinks and they had other conditions I think, that caused them a heart attack or some other unfortunate event that led to the end of their life, and the media picks up on that and all of a sudden it becomes a big story and briefly sinks one of the great stocks of the last three decades, Monster Beverage.

The list goes on for these kinds of stories, short-term oriented. Tesla, remember the batteries were catching on fire underneath the cars its early days and that was going on be a big problem for Tesla, and it sells up. These stories pop up all the time for innovators, and they’re not great stories, they’re sad. I mean, there was an E. coli outbreak for Chipotle, do you remember that years ago? Much reported on? A serious problem? Chipotle acted on it. But what this does is this sets a tone where these companies hit headlines and they’re negative, and they seem like a really big deal and the shorter-term players are all ready to sell. In conclusion, when you take an ultra long-term focus into these kinds of companies, I think you and I, as Rule Breakers, stand a better-than-average chance of beating the market because so few others are taking the same approach. That’s what we’ve been doing for years, and why I hope we’re enjoying that together, as we enter this next decade, 2024-2034, why I’m very excited about Rule Breaker Investing and this approach that continues to win one decade after another for I think, some of these style boxing insights I’ve tried to convey here as I shut down Rule Breaker Blast from the Past Number 1: Style Boxing, and shout out to Igor.

All right, onto Rule Breaker Blast from the Past Number 2, I’ll be short and sweet with this one. This is Rule Breaker Investor habit Number 2, one I’ve talked about in past years. The date was September 19th of 2018, where I talked about six hows of Rule Breaker Investing. We talked about not the stocks this time, but you as a Rule Breaker investor, how do you roll? What are the habits you’re developing? The reason this podcast was important and I want to bring it back from the past, is to remind us that it’s one thing to have a great stock or stock pick in mind, and I hope over the course of time you’ve found these and you will find more in future and I hope we’ve helped. It’s one thing to know the right ticker or the right company or even industry to buy into, but if your own habits have not been developed properly as an investor, for example, if when you hear that Teslas are catching fire underneath the cars and you think that’s a reason to sell the stock and stay out, then the problem is not with Tesla, the problem is inside ourselves, and so the habits that we develop as investors seem so important to me, and Rule Breaker Investor habit Number 2 is Blast from the Past Number 2 and it’s add up, don’t double down. I don’t need to spend a lot of time on this one because I hope it’s fairly self-evident and any regular listener probably already has heard this from me before, and I sure hope it’s not just about words, but you’ve inculcated those words and you’ve made them implicit in your own actions. They’ve become, I hope, with James Clear, a habit, an atomic habit that comes naturally to you as an investor. When I have new money, and it’s a great problem to have, and those who earn a salary check have that problem every two weeks. When I have new money and I’ve saved some of it, which is really important to do, I want to add that to existing investments much of the time, it’s not always a new stock every new month. It’s great to find new stocks, but sometimes our best investment, as we know, is that stock we already hold and we just want to add to that stock.

I invariably over time have added and counsel you to add not to the ones that are down or the ones that are just treading water doing nothing for years, no, add to the ones that are going up. It’s as simple as that. In a world where people here buy low, sell high, and they know that mutual funds, we talked about this in recent weeks, mutual funds rebalance by selling off their winners to add to their losers. The old line, I think it was Peter Lynch’s line, it probably predates Peter Lynch, but that we are watering our weeds as we cut our flowers. That doesn’t work, especially for Rule Breaker Investing, it’s a very sub-optimal approach. Early on when I was a kid, my dad said, “Hey David, suggestion; don’t throw good money after bad.” In other words, with the stock down and things aren’t going so well, that company just missed earnings, or there are developments in its industry that don’t favor it, don’t take new money, good money, and throw it in the same direction of a bad investment you’ve already made. Do with Rule Breaker Investor habit Number 2, the exact opposite, add up, don’t double down, and it’s hard to do, that’s part of the reason it works. When you go contrary to the crowd, when you’re David trying to beat Goliath, it’s awfully helpful to be taking an approach that goes contrary to other people’s instincts and seems crazy until you really think logically, step away from it a bit, and realize how obvious this is. We should be continuing to add, nurture and support the things that are winning. Add money to the stocks going up over time, not the ones going down, you’ll do a lot better.

Rule Breaker, Blast from the Past Number 2, this week is a simple reminder of that simple habit that is not, in my experience, practiced by most people who are doing their own investing. I’m not really sure, perhaps your experience is different than mine, I’m not using research data here, but just my own horse sense of what I’ve heard people say and do. I’ve met many investors at Motley Fool events over the years and spoken to many through our website, my hunch is most people still tend to try to buy low hoping one day to sell high, and low for them means the ones that are down, the 52-week lows, not the 52-week highs. I want to remind you, and William O’Neil, who I mentioned earlier, was a hero making this point. I want to remind you, you’re going to be more successful if you add to the things that are going up. By the way, it doesn’t work every time, it works enough of the time that it works.

Rule Breaker, Blast from the Past Number 3, this one comes from last summer. It was authors in August, and my friend Sunny Vanderbeck, joining us to talk about how to sell your company. The date was August 9th, 2023, selling your business with Sunny Vanderbeck, and not everybody is in a position of having their own business and having someone approach you and say, could I buy your business from you? But I also know my audience well enough to know many of you over the years and many of you have been with us over the years, are entrepreneurs yourselves. You’ve got a family business, you’ve got a small business, you might have a big business. Often it’s multi-generational and it’s you that Sunny wrote his book for and it was my pleasure to host Sunny as he provided the insights he’s gained from being someone who once sold his company and didn’t do it very well, but these days buys other people’s companies and is full of great insight. I’m not going to hit you with any of Sunny’s frameworks. Largely, I’m just going to briefly summarize this podcast as an advertisement for anybody for whom right now, this topic could be really helpful and really important for where you are here in life. As we start to move into the summer of 2024, I highly recommend you going back to last August’s podcast, or if you have a friend who’s thinking of selling their business, such valuable material. We talked about the emotional and practical challenges of selling a business, it’s not just always about the business, is it? Often the importance of aligning with the right buyer. Specifically, if you care about the legacy and culture that you’ve created in the business that you’ve created, it’s so important to make sure the buyer is aligned with preserving your legacy and your culture. Again, some people don’t care too much about that. It’s just about the financial transaction and I’m certainly not against saying that, but a lot of others reflect on whether they created the business or someone earlier generation of their own family did that legacy and culture counts for a lot. Sunny speaks so well to the mistakes made by people who just take the highest offer and don’t realize what’s going to happen next.

Also, there are many different types of buyers. There are strategic buyers, people who are going to completely buy your company because it fits into their strategy. But they’re also financial buyers. I think I just referenced them, they’re looking at the financial metrics and they probably don’t care too much what you think about what they’ll do with your business after they pay you top dollar for it. They’re also entrepreneurial buyers and these come in the form of former CEOs, former founders themselves. They often bring valuable insights, operational insights maybe, and they’ll be more involved in the growth of your company post-acquisition. Understanding the types of buyers, Sunny speaks so well to that. Then just preparing for selling, conducting reverse due diligence. A lot of us understand that due diligence will be exerted on us by any potential buyer. They want to kick the doors. They want to do their background checks and look through our financial accounting and rightly so, but there’s reverse due diligence. That’s so important and Sunny speaks to that. The due diligence you do on the people who are talking about buying your company, what have they done in other transactions, maybe one similar to your own, to understand their culture and their operations, Sunny makes a point of visiting the buyer and going through their office, meeting their employees in order to really see, is this a trustworthy thing that I feel aligned with or not?It’s crucial to repair, not just your business for sale, but I would also add, I think, from that podcast that you yourself, emotionally and practically acknowledged the profound impact that that sale is going to have on your personal life and on your identity. The last thing I’ll mention since Sunny’s a conscious capitalist, is the concept of conscious selling, where you’re thinking through the welfare of all your stakeholders. That includes your employees. You’re selling your company along with those employees, you might not stay on as long as many of them may. Are you winning for them? Of course, your customers, is it going to transition well, or all of a sudden are all their prices is going to be jacked up or their quality jacked down? The community, many businesses matter a lot to the community in which they exist. Rather than focus solely on the financial transaction, a conscious seller, a conscious capitalist, is going to be aligned with a win for everybody sustainably, ethically. I think I’ve conveyed enough, I hope to entice anybody who may have missed that podcast and may now or in future be in a place where that could be very helpful. Of course, Sunny’s book, Selling Without Selling Out is also a worthy read in a lot of ways. We did a CliffsNotes version of that book when he joined me on the podcast last August. I mentioned we started with investing points, we’re now into a business point. Let’s now move to Blast from the Pasts Number 4 and 5, life points.

Blast from the Past Number 4. This one comes from the year 2017. It was November 1st, when I had Roy Spence, entrepreneur, world-class marketer, somebody who thinks a lot about purpose in branding, co-founder of GSD&M, the Austin branding and marketing firm, Roy Spence, on this podcast. At one point early in the podcast I said to Roy, I’m curious Roy, looking at the world today, you don’t have to cast any nasty aspersions here, but is there a company that comes to mind when you think about who may have lost their purpose at some point? Maybe tried to redefine its purpose, maybe even failed at that, but who comes to mind? Roy’s answer, which I’ll always remember in part because I’m making it a Blast from the Past right now, and I quote, Roy said, My instinct in life and I know this sounds again a little bit naive. A really good friend of mine, Roy went on validated this the other day and if I told you who it was, you’d go, wow. He looked at me and he said, Roy, you know what’s interesting about you? I said Roy said, Yeah, everything. He was joking, of course. No, he didn’t say that. This friend of his said to Roy, you are a for person. Roy said I said, I beg your pardon? He said, you’re for things, you’re not against things. Roy concluded by saying, and I am. I was asking him not to cast aspersions, but I was asking him for a negative example, a counterfactual, some company that really screwed up and Roy declined to answer that, not because he doesn’t have good ideas in mind probably or couldn’t name companies, but he’s a for person.

Elsewhere in that podcast, speaking of for, he said, I highly recommend the whole podcast, which is why I’m bringing him back in this Blast from the Past, but he said, you become what you look for in life. If you’re on the road to look for enemies, you’ll find them. If you’re looking for hate, it’ll live in your heart. If you’re looking for gossip, it’ll consume you. If you’re looking for fear, it will follow you. But if you get on the road and you’re looking for friends, you’ll be befriended. If you’re looking for love, you’ll be loved. If you look for the truth, it will set you free. If you look for hope, it’ll go to the mountaintop. Roy concluded saying, I know now in life, all of you listeners and viewers out there, you actually become what you look for, so let’s go look for goodness. I’m a for person. I’ve used that phrase a lot ever since. It’s now seven years later. Because that’s exactly what I think I am or at least I try to be. I hope you do too. We’re living at a time where especially politics seems to be against all the time. Many of the best known politicians are the loudest voices against. They are the opposite of for, why I and I think many of us tune out politics and look at scans here in 2024 because it’s become an environment against, and against is exhausting. Against doesn’t really help anybody, especially people by the way, who are against the quickest way to become a demon is to demonize others. On the other side, if you’re a for person, what benefits? For people foster collaboration. People who are for others, cultivate environments where collaboration thrives. We’re focusing on mutual goals and successes, win-win rather than against, especially in killing forms of competition or talking down others. People who are for people build trust. When you consistently support and affirm others, do you have someone like this in your life? You trust them. They are building trust. People feel more comfortable and secure when they know they’re in a supportive environment, a for not an against environment. It also obviously reduces conflict.

I don’t think we need any more conflict in our world today. Instead, if you focus on what can be done and what supports others, the for people that I know naturally reduce the potential for conflict. Their approach emphasizes understanding and cooperation over conflicts, over divisiveness. I think two more things that I can see in for people like Roy Spence, for people improve mental health. They probably have better mental health themselves, but being supportive and positive for those around them, creating positive interactions, nurturing relationships that decreases stress, increases your satisfaction and happiness, definitely benefits your own mental health and very likely benefits the mental health of those around you. For people. I think the last thing I’ll say about for people as we close down Blast from the Past Number 4, and boy, if Roy Spence isn’t an example of this, go back and listen to that podcast anytime you need some positive ups. For people inspire others. That might be the most powerful benefit of being a for person. Your ability to inspire others. Positivity, we’ve talked about positive intelligence a lot in this podcast, the benefits for your investing and your business and your life. Positivity in support. You’re motivating others and they’re unconsciously or consciously mirroring back to you the inspiration, the for that you are showing them and it multiplies. That effect is a force multiplier. As Colin Powell once said about optimism, multiplier through a community or an organization. Go back listen to that podcast, but if you want to skip it, I hope you’ve gotten enough from this Blast to realize and appreciate that Roy Spence is a for person. I’m trying to be a for person. I hope you’re a for person too, or at least I hope you’re trying to be a for person. Onto Blast from the Past Number 5, the date February 1st of 2017. The podcast was Campfire Stories Volume 2. I’m going to retell a story now that I told around the campfire on that podcast.

I’m reminded, by the way, when I say the phrase, Campfire Stories of the fantastic 100th mailbag I enjoyed with some of our best storytellers, some of this Rule Breaker Investing community’s brightest stars. I hope you enjoyed them a couple of months ago on the podcast. That was stories around a campfire in retrospect. What it reminded me of is the benefit of those kinds of podcasts and my intention to do some more of them in the months and years ahead. Community members telling their stories. Here I am around the campfire with you, just for this one story to close. It’s a baseball story and one of personal significance. I tend to turn all stories by the way, whether from sports or otherwise into investing and life stories. This one’s going to be no exception. It was my spring break. It was just after ninth grade. I had the great good fortune of getting to be a bat boy for the Minnesota Twins. I got to go down for spring training. It was an old tinker field in Orlando, Florida where the then hapless Twins did their vernal sojourns. Back in those days in the years 1982, 1983-ish, the twins had a bunch of exciting upcoming players, but they were also losing 100 games a year. Now these same youngsters, I know not everybody is a Twins fan and not everybody cares about the Twins in the 1980s, but some of you will remember Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, these same youngsters that I got to be bat boy with that spring, they would wind up winning the world series, the world championships just five years later.

The year was 1987 when they did it and again, by the way, in 1991. But this is 1982, 83, my own bat boy days, which by the way, we’re their salad days, as Shakespeare puts it, when they were green. They were young players not winning and speaking of green being green, so was I. Salad green, bat boys don’t exactly command respect among major league baseball players. Maybe I benefited because my grandfather owned a piece of the team, but actually, I don’t think that mattered at all. But there was one player who stood out to me. Different from all the rest. In contrast to his peers, his peers who were young, strong, likable, cocky, loved to joke around younger players, this player was older, sadder, and wiser. He was low key to their high key. He was actually a rookie, but he was 30 years old. He’d worked his way up long and hard through the minor leagues and he just exuded humility. My locker was right next to his. I can still see the masking tape affixed there, Wash. His simple nickname scrawled in black letters on masking tape. The thing about Wash was that he actually got to know my name rather than call me kid, or bucko, or whatever friendly but patronizing nickname other players used. As a 15-year-old, I could relate to him as well on a special level because he was only 5’11”, he weighed a 163 lbs, that’s pretty much my own size my whole lifelong.

Of course back then I was a bit smaller, but you can see how he was my guy. Indeed, to the only kid in the Twins’ clubhouse, he was like an uncle, someone I could talk to in contrast to the plucky, obnoxious, older brother types that the rest of the players represented for me at the age of 15. Maybe my locker was put there for a reason. I remember Ron Washington, AKA, Wash. Well, the baseball encyclopedia will show Ron as a dependable, but unspectacular, weak hitting, middle infielder who batted 451 times for the Minnesota Twins that season 1982 and never got that much playing time again. He was released by the Twins during the spring training of 1987, the year they would win it all. He left the game some years later. I didn’t really follow where he went after that. To me, he’d been a standout in the clubhouse, but like most fans, I admittedly wind up spending more of my time following the standouts on the field. Well, fast-forward to today, 2024. This past off-season, Ron Washington was named the Major League Baseball manager of the Los Angeles Angels. I wasn’t totally shocked by this. I don’t think many real baseball fans were because he has a background in management. His was an increasingly visible presence in the third base coaching box for the Oakland Athletics back in the day, in the age of their Moneyball fame. There was Ron Washington in the third base coaches box, and then later on, he was named manager of the Texas Rangers. Before I get to my investing lesson, here’s an Associated Press story quote from Ron, from my own distant memories. Boy, does this ring true. This was at the press conference when he was named manager of the Texas Rangers. Wash said, “I’m going to be a players manager. My job is solely to make sure that every player on the Texas Rangers feels like they are part of everything going on here.” Washington said Monday night when he was introduced at a news conference, “As a manager’, he continued, “I’m no good if the players don’t get it done. If the players get it done, I’m great.”

No bluster there, no we’re going to win the championship, no I came from such humble beginnings, I’ve earned this, no, very little focus on the self. Wash would end up leading that team, the Texas Rangers to the World Series four years later in 2010 and then again in 2011. I wish him the best now with his next adventure here in 2024. I will note by the way, that my Minnesota Twins, the Twins by the way, were picked to win their division this year. Everyone knew that the Angels this year need to start rebuilding, but are you ready for the investment lesson? You want your CEO to be Ron Washington. Any company that you’ve invested in, if you have significant dollars on the line over a long time period, you better make sure that the qualities, I experienced first hand in wash, are there any individuals who not exactly indirectly affect your retirement? The people leading the companies you’re invested in, and good people don’t really, most of the time in my experience, change. It’s now 32 years later since my locker sat next to Wash. But that same Wash is there in Los Angeles today, 32 years later, same Ron Washington, same perspective. Again, that is the type of person you want running a company. It is a powerful business and investing lesson and what I’ve learned over time, character matters. I think it matters more than anything to the extent you can find excellent character in who runs the companies in your portfolio, who you work with professionally, who you marry, who you play golf with, who you pay to teach your kids. Fellow investor, fellow traveler in these lands, fellow Fool, remember my Ron Washington lesson. I wish him the best now with his next adventure here in 2024, I will note by the way that my Minnesota Twins swept his Angels, somewhat ironically, and that’s most of Blast from the Past Number 5.

I do want to add in passing that no one is perfect. I’ve made more bad stock picks than anyone in Motley Fool history and Ron Washington has made some real mistakes personally, which he’s owned up to. I’m not trying to put Ron up there as your ultimate human exemplar unless you want to imitate maybe his best characteristics. His resilience, his humility, what you’re seeing in this story, this Blast from the Past through the eyes of a 15-year-old is someone who from a place of humility would rise to leadership and then some measure of fame and a bit of infamy too. As Wash takes over the Angels this year, we’ll see if he can get them into the World Series from a standing start four years later as he did with the Rangers. I’m grateful for my experience, which for me, thanks to him, has been a powerful investing lesson that I have used over and over, years and years since to find the companies, but more importantly, find the people, I admire Steve Jobs, and invest in them. Character always wins, as we shared on this podcast in a nuanced discussion with Oxford Character Project’s Ed Brooks, you may remember that from last fall, which can be a part of a future Blast from the Past perhaps one day. Who is running your organization matters a lot for better and sometimes for worse a lot more than most people think or realize. The Angels to me have a figure who by the way is no Angel himself and yet, embodies humility as I first encountered him and resilience these many years later. Who is running your organization matters a lot. Go Ron Washington.

David Gardner has positions in Tesla. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill, Monster Beverage, Salesforce, and Tesla. The Motley Fool recommends Hershey. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

“Rule Breaker Investing” Brings Back Insight on Being a For-Person, the Challenges of Selling a Business, and More was originally published by The Motley Fool