Making A Difference

A Chance to Lead

John Brennan (MBA 1980)

John Brennan (MBA 1980) is chairman emeritus, the Vanguard Group. In this interview he recalls his early time at the business and the opportunity presented to him to lead.

“In the summer of 1982, I moved out to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to work for Vanguard, a small, not very well-known company in the mutual fund business. An opportunity that in many ways you couldn't make up. Somebody came and went as the president pretty quickly in that era, and I sort of quickly replaced him. I was young—30, I guess—and formally became the chief financial officer, and then went on the board, then became the president and the CEO.

“We were tiny, we were $4 billion in assets, a couple of hundred people. But I look at Vanguard [today], it's a thousand times as big as when I joined. And it's a far better company. Most companies that grow that much regress. I look today with great pride and satisfaction of what the team does.

“The luck of coming into a place where a big leader had left and that void hadn't been filled, and then being given a chance to fill that void, I don't believe I could have done what I got a chance to do without having gone to Harvard Business School––and I've told this a million times––because that exercise of being a decision maker in a pretend environment 15 times a week keyed me up to do it in a real environment.’

(Published November 2017)

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