"The people we do business with today are the same people with the same feelings as the people I did business with in Columbia 30 years ago-people who lead busy lives, who know they should do something about investing their money but aren't sure what they should do
A Little Better Than He Found It
by Steve Charles
John Bachmann '60 has transformed a small, regional financial services business into one of only two major national investment firms outside of New York City. He chaired a Securities and Exchange Commission task force that crafted regulations essential to preventing a repeat of the 1987 stock market crash. He kept the peace between the feuding giants of the securities industry while serving as the association's chairman for an unprecedented two terms. He's the chairman of the St. Louis Symphony, commissioner of the St. Louis art museum, a director of Trans World Airlines, and is so respected by international management sage Peter Drucker that he chairs the board of visitors at the Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University in California.
Yet the first words the managing principal of Edward Jones utters as you sit down to interview him about his career are:
"So, tell me a little about yourself."
It's classic Bachmann.
"John is always focused on the other person," says Bruce Coppock, deputy director of Carnegie Hall and former executive director of the St. Louis Symphony, where Bachmann is chairman. "He has an extraordinary curiosity."
"He's so excited about Jones and what's happening here, but he just doesn't talk much about himself," a member of the PR staff warned.
Even the memorabilia in his 10th floor office looking west over suburban St. Louis tells far less than what you'll find in most corporate suites. A bookcase packed with volumes on business and management (half a row of inscribed works by Drucker) and biographies of national and international business, military, and political leaders suggests his interests and mentors. End tables bearing scale replicas of TWA jets and a $2 Wabash pencil cup celebrate his allegiances.
But if Bachmann's ego keeps a low profile here, his influence does not. His trademark "participatory" approach to management affects even the layout of the office. Two desks-one traditional executive type and another, more intriguing "stand-up" style-are pushed against the windows to leave plenty of room for four comfortable armchairs. Unless he's meeting with Jones partners in the adjacent high-tech video-conferencing suite, this is where Bachmann prefers to work. There's no imposing desk between the managing principal and those seated around the coffee table. It's a space for working conversation. And those who have collaborated here with Bachmann on projects ranging from the company's expansion to the funding of the symphony recall him in terms often reserved for a favorite professor: "generous with his time and intellect;" "a strong but low-pressure leader;" "absorbs and understands complex information without jumping to conclusions;" "committed, thorough, and fair."
These essential traits of Bachmann's style are also the human-scale building blocks of Edward Jones' growth. For the success of this company-which caters to conservative investors from 3,840 one-person shops across the U.S. and Canada-depends on its brokers' abilities to build informed, trustworthy relationships with clients.
"Our belief is, you treat the customer the way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed," Bachmann told Money magazine, which gave Jones top ranking in a 1995 article entitled "Which Brokerage Firms Treat You Right." This belief "is at the heart and soul of how we do business," Bachmann added in a 1997 Fortune magazine article hailing Jones as "The Wal-Mart of Wall Street."
The company is equally dependent, Jones management consultant Peter Drucker says, on the way its brokers are supervised by Bachmann's management team-"the people that Mr. Bachmann has developed, brought up, and formed into a unique partnership of leaders."
That Jones has retained this distinct partnership flavor despite the firm's rapid growth and high-tech networking requirements is a tribute to what Drucker calls "that human ability" of John Bachmann. It's a skill with roots in the relationships he recalls as the norm in his hometown of Salem, Illinois-in his home, in the Methodist church, and in the furniture store his father managed.
The value of such alliances was driven home even more clearly soon after he arrived at Wabash College as a nervous freshman in the fall of 1956. (Next Page)