I had something else planned for my introduction to this month’s newsletter, but that will have to wait until February for reasons you’ll soon understand.
As I’ve mentioned before, this newsletter is read by more than just our clients. We have 2,000 subscribers and a monthly open rate of 65 to 70 percent. This means every month, 1,400 people are taking a peek at what we share. But there weren’t 2,000 people in the beginning, or even 200. As some may have read in Odds On, we started Hill Investment Group with 0 clients. Rick and I made an agreement with our former firm that allowed us to talk with a small number of relationships, many of whom decided to join us.
One of those “founding” clients passed away recently, and I want to tell you about him. His name was George.
George was a husband, a dad, a grandfather, a friend to many, a diehard North Carolina Tarheel basketball fan, an avid golfer, a former lawyer for the king of beers, a lover of his dog Maggie Mae, and someone who made a profound impact on Hill Investment Group. He also affected me, creating images and memories in my mind that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Like most of us, George started as a very different investor. He was an old-school active investor, buying stocks and trading options and spending too much time and energy trying to outperform the market. All he got in return was too much stress and unsatisfying results.
It took three meetings over six months to convince him to convert to an evidence-based approach. It didn’t hurt that his former employer, Anheuser-Busch, had switched to index funds in the mid-80s, so elements of that story helped push George a little closer to accepting our data-driven approach. Once he made the change, he never looked back and became a raving fan.
When you had George on your side, he was an unstoppable force–the type to put his arm around you and emphatically introduce us by saying, “These are my guys. You should talk with them.” He suggested his family members work with us, neighbors, friends, golf partners, colleagues, and so on. Because he had both relationships and influence, people listened to him.
George approached everything he loved with that same enthusiasm. We once gave him a basketball signed by the coach of his favorite team. To make it perfect for him, we looked all over town for a plexiglass case to display the ball, then wrapped it and presented it as a special gift for all of his support. George tore open the paper, ripped the plexiglass apart, threw it all away, and carried the naked ball home. We tried to stop him and gather the plexiglass display case, but he didn’t want or need it. He blasted right through it and was on to his next adventure.
That was George’s typical speed. Once, he hollered at a golf marshal that play was too slow. The marshal calmly reminded George that he had just returned to St. Louis from Florida and may have forgotten to adjust his watch. The front nine had only taken two hours (right on time), not three. George laughed, saying, “Well, it felt long playing with these guys!”
Becoming a Hill Investment Group client gave George both peace of mind about his portfolio and more time to pursue the things he loved. He took trips worldwide, had a custom wooden boat crafted and named for his beloved wife, Joanie, and built a house on Martha’s Vineyard. Once the house was completed, he hosted a dinner to thank Hill Investment Group for helping make their dream home a reality. George’s generous toast at the dinner is still one of the highlights of my career.
George embodied everything we hope for our clients and validated why we started this firm: to improve our clients’ lives. George said it best when he uttered a famous line in Hill Investment Group lore: “The only thing I fear now is a downhill, sidehill three-foot putt. My worries are different thanks to you all.”
In 2019, John Reagan and I took our spouses to visit George and Joan on Martha’s Vineyard (see photo). George created an itinerary that wore us out (and I’m 30 years younger). I slept like a baby on that trip. George did, too, on the final night. He took us to a private club—one he didn’t even belong to (except through an old reciprocal that had long expired)—for a splendid dinner where we were treated like royalty. Afterward, we drank, told stories, laughed, and finally, he fell asleep in his chair with his dog at his side as I tried to keep my eyes open through the remainder of the documentary he had selected.
George lived a rich life. He made things happen. He used his influence for good. He created memories. He helped our firm. He took the long view and was proud of it.
I’m lucky to have known him.
Earlier this month, we had our first-ever movie event. It was a special screening of “Tune Out the Noise,” a documentary by the acclaimed filmmaker Errol Morris. Clients, friends, team members, fellow advisors, and even a few Washington University finance students were in attendance. It was a wonderful evening of education and entertainment.
The Hill team gathered lots of feedback after the movie, but my favorite came through an email stating:
I’m sending a belated thanks for your invitation to the screening of Tune Out The Noise. It’s just another reminder of how you are different from other financial advisors. I describe Hill to my friends as “the Apple of the investing industry.”
The Hill team is inspired by the work highlighted in the film and finds it especially satisfying because the stars are not Hollywood actors but real people, many of whom crossed paths at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s. Their work has changed the financial lives of many, and the compounding benefits go well beyond any blockbuster we’ve ever seen.
After the screening, we discussed the film’s themes and unique approach with our special guest, Dave Butler. Dave is the co-CEO of Dimensional Fund Advisors, which Barron’s ranked as the #1 fund company in the world just last year. Dave is a past podcast guest and a heck of a nice guy. We covered questions like how the movie came to be, what it’s like to be interviewed by Errol Morris, and when the movie will be accessible to the public.
While the answer to the last question is uncertain, we do know that our plan is to share the movie in both Houston and Nashville in the coming months. It’s also worth noting that at the St. Louis screening, we had attendees from as far as Wyoming join us, so whether you’re based in Houston or Nashville shouldn’t stop you from considering one of the next showings if interested.
Stay tuned and keep on “tuning out the noise”!
We are excited to welcome Jack Gardner to the client service team at Hill Investment Group. We initially found Jack through a friend of Matt Hall’s wife (thanks Lisa!). Jack was looking for an internship to complete his studies at the University of Missouri, and while we had already filled our intern openings for the summer, we agreed to meet with Jack as a favor. Jack quickly impressed all of us at the firm with his work ethic, initiative, and desire to learn. It was an easy decision when it came to asking him to stay on full-time.
He is already making an impact in our clients’ lives behind the scenes, and we look forward to introducing you to him next time you are in the office.
And similar to Matt Hall, Jack is a cancer survivor. He had Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was 18 years old and is now in full remission.
Please join me in welcoming Jack to the team!