FOOL PLATE SPECIAL
An Investment Opinion
So Long, Farewell Louis Corrigan (TMF Seymor)
September 23, 1999
The big news today is that I'm saying good-bye to the Fool. OK, I know that's not likely to show up in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, but it's important news in my world. I'm hanging up my motley to become a partner at Aesop Capital, an investment management company where I'll have a chance to share recipes with some smart investors and eat more of my own cooking.
That may sound like I'm going over to the Dark Side, but I assure you that once a Fool, always a Fool. Indeed, I'm tickled by how thoroughly my life over the last four years reads like the Foolish version of a Horatio Alger story.
In the fall of 1995, I was a poor graduate student halfheartedly working on a dissertation on Ernest Hemingway and writing articles for free for Rogue, the Fool's answer to The New Yorker. In those days, my work consisted of stuff like an homage to Pavement's primary singer and songwriter Stephen Malkmus; an ode to Claire Danes and My So-Called Life; a review of how the Irish became "white" in 19th-century America; and perhaps most memorably (because it took me so long) an endless series on the strange, troubling science of AIDS. And every Saturday I hosted a pop culture trivia game called Rogue Warriors where we dished out free AOL hours to teenagers who knew everything there was to know about Alicia Silverstone. For some reason, Rogue editor Jim Surowiecki soon dumped this responsibility on me.
As brilliant as our work was at Rogue, we weren't worth $3 an hour, at least not to most people. And as the entire Iomega saga took shape and I spent more time reading through and posting to the Fool message boards, it became clear that I had a ringside seat to a major cultural phenomenon that revealed how the online world would eventually alter both the financial services industry and traditional journalism.
Thankfully, I started writing about it. Before too long, CNN's Lou Dobbs took note and put me on the fledgling CNNfn where I tried to look calm despite the thrill of having my earpiece filled with Beverly Schuch asking her producer, "Who the hell is this guy?" Not long before that I had spent two months tied to the mast of the collected Melville, so working for the Fool and appearing on CNN all the time seemed like it would be a lot of fun. And as Tom Gardner convinced me, I was "Da Man." Good-bye dissertation.
Though I had some Fool radio gigs, that was my first and last appearance on television. But so what. Being a Fool has been full of surprises. In one of my first articles as a paid Fool, I detailed the history of short-selling, including its pernicious effects on capital markets. Yet, over the next three years, I would investigate dozens of companies (remember Diana, Solv-Ex, Premier Laser?) where the only thing keeping individual investors from losing their shirts were vocal short-sellers who hit the message boards with their skepticism.
For a time, Rogue transitioned into the Fool's sidekick as a place for commentary on American business by two guys who had never actually worked for one. Our pieces on corporate governance and selective disclosure explored the way shareowners needed to have greater access to company information through conference calls and meaningful control over corporate boards. I think that more than anyone else at the time, we understood the (still untapped) possibilities the Web offers for bringing investors together to create an active and meaningful shareowner capitalism. Maybe someday.
The point, I guess, is that I didn't bring a finance degree or years of Wall Street training to my job at the Fool. Yes, I had been investing money since college and got a great education in business by reading the Journal every day. But when I wrote my first Daily Double in early 1997, I didn't really understand how to calculate a PEG ratio. I needed to start over with Fool 101.
One learns a lot from doing something every day like I have. And to get paid for learning, well, what a great opportunity the Fool has provided me. But you can learn whatever I've learned -- and more. Read our daily news and portfolio reports. The Fool's writers are investors writing for investors. Almost nobody else can make that claim. Those that can simply don't write about companies anywhere near as well as the Fool does. For all the value that mainstream financial journalism does provide, journalists generally don't think like investors. So they simply can't model the intellectual processes you need to invest for yourself.
When in doubt, e-mail the Fool's writers. Or better yet, post your questions to the message boards. I've met so many savvy investors on our boards, folks who have patiently explained the most arcane things to me over and over until I understood them. This is classic "power of the Internet" stuff that leaves me feeling awe and gratitude. The Fool community can make you a better investor, especially if you flock to those discussions offering a diversity of opinions.
Of course, I can't leave the Fool without expressing how proud I am of David and Tom Gardner and the more than 200 employees past and present who have made the Fool an incredibly cool, smart, and helpful place, both as an employee and as a consumer. To create a company that actually delivers on the promise to amuse, educate, and enrich is just an awesome achievement. If the Fool didn't exist and some start-up launched this website tomorrow, you would want to tell all your friends right away. So do. They will thank you for it. We still live in a world where no one gets a financial education unless they actively seek it out. And that's a shame because mishandled finances can cause such heartache.
So much for the astonishing recent past. What about the future? I've got four wishes for the Fool.
First, Fool mutual funds. Some people don't want to manage their money. If someone becomes educated about his investment options and still wants to choose an active money manager, that's great. The problem is not mutual funds, per se, just poorly performing funds with high turnover, high expenses, and misleading ads. In my view, the Fool's portfolios are more than investment strategies. They're real-money model portfolios that some people clearly mimic. If they're good enough to present as portfolios (and hey, 199% in one year isn't bad), then the Fool should make it easy for folks at home to just buy them whole.
Second, a flood of Fool research. We all know how compromised and obtuse most professional sell-side Wall Street research is. As investors writing for investors, the Fool staff offers extremely readable and useful research products that are well worth paying for. Indeed, the Fool is the only major online financial site that already provides such research in the form of the Internet Stock Report, the year-end Industry Focus, and the soon-to-launch company-specific research.
Third, real-world domination. The Fool reaches millions through the Web, AOL, the nationally syndicated radio show, the nationally syndicated newspaper column, and the new monthly magazine. But I want the Fool to work itself into people's lives with the aromatic insistence of Starbucks coffee because the Fool can improve those lives. Every lottery machine in America should be plastered with Fool.com stickers. Every student should carry Fool coloring books, workbooks, or textbooks. There should be Fool tupperware parties. Every poor soul tempted to seek investment advice from Wade Cook should have a Fool nearby to offer a 13 steps program.
Fourth, a billion dollar IPO that never looks back. Okay, I've got some stock options. But a hugely successful IPO that's followed by years of price appreciation will mean the Fool is succeeding in improving lives. It can and it should.
As for me, I hope to contribute some articles to the Fool from time to time, so you may not be rid of me yet. But for now, thanks for reading. It's been such a pleasure.