Taking a personal interest (John Bachmann p.2)
"It did not come easy for me," Bachmann says of his studies at Wabash, and his college yearbook reveals an undergraduate career that belies the economics major's later success.
"I'm the champion of those of us who worked very hard and didn't have a lot of immediately tangible results to show for it," he says. "But I think I got more out of my education than most of my peers because I did have to work hard."
Helping along the way were two Wabash professors who "took me under their wing," Bachmann recalls. "I don't know what they saw, but they were certainly kind to me."
The first was professor of economics and then Dean of the College Ben Rogge H'57, who served as a surrogate advisor and smoothed Bachmann's entrance into Northwestern University's MBA program in 1961 with a single phone call.
But Bachmann places Warren Shearer '36 at the top of his list of mentors.
"He was wonderful," Bachmann says, offering a description not always associated with the steely-eyed, often combative professor of economics. He becomes animated as he recalls Shearer's teaching methods and their one-on-one sessions in the professor's office during senior readings.
"He was argumentative; he was impossible. You couldn't get him to agree with you on anything, and if you were brought to his point of view, then he'd change it on you." Bachmann shakes his head and smiles. "But he had a twinkle in his eye, and he had a way of bringing the conversation to the point where I could express my views. If he was being too rough on me, he'd back off a bit. He had a way of criticizing that didn't demean me.
"He took a personal interest in me," Bachmann adds, his voice falling to a near-whisper. "That was the key. He knew who I was."
Bachmann was even more grateful to Shearer in the years after commencement. "He bothered to note what I was doing as I was maneuvering my way through the corporate business world," Bachmann explains. "It mattered to him."
Separating Ideas from Ego
An intern, messenger, and janitor for the Crawfords-ville office of Edward Jones during his senior year at Wabash, Bachmann worked as a board marker for the company while pursuing his MBA. He went full-time in 1962, training potential brokers for their New York Stock Exchange qualifying exams and doing research. By 1963, he was ready to open shop in Columbia, Missouri as one of Edward Jones' investment representatives.
Opening an Edward Jones office can be a baptism by fire. Today, new brokers spend three months in intensive training, learning how to approach customers, how to construct investment portfolios, and how to handle the inevitable rejection.
"I think what makes the job difficult is that there is no tangible product. Because the product is an abstraction-it's an idea that you're presenting-it's difficult to separate your ego from the product. When your idea is rejected, you feel rejected."
When Bachmann began knocking on doors in Columbia in 1963, there were no training sessions or video conferences to ease rejection. His main source of information was the Wall Street Journal, which arrived every day at 3 p.m., provided that the connecting train between Chicago and Hannibal was no more than 30 minutes late. The door-to-door calls he made were teaching sessions-lessons on investing beyond savings accounts and the family home.
"I'd ask people, 'If you were to look at the investment portfolio of the most successful person in town, what do you think you'd find?' When they realized that they could have an interest in those companies through mutual funds, that was an education for them."
Before moving to the company's headquarters in 1970, the broker learned a lot from his clients as well-lessons still relevant to Jones' present growth strategy.
"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," explains Bachmann, who still meets with customers at least once a month. "They need someone to walk them through their choices, and they still value a personal relationship based on trust."
That relationship became Jones' niche in the market and the cornerstone of the company's expansion plans. John Bachmann became a shaper of those plans when he wrapped up his work as a broker and moved to the company's headquarters as a general partner in 1970. (Next page)