I am back from TX. In Dallas my brother Alex and I had the pleasure of spending four hours with John Mauldin. Our visit with him started in John’s apartment in downtown Dallas and continued in a bar at a nearby hotel. A lot of my readers are familiar with John, but for the few who aren’t, let me introduce him. John is an economist, a thinker, and an incredible writer. He has written half a dozen books, and he writes probably the most popular (free) investment newsletter in the world – it’s read by millions.
John, unlike most financial writers, writes with an incredible warmth – you feel as if he is writing just to you. He is never boring and likes to share glimpses of his life. As a reader you get to live vicariously as the father of seven children (five of them adopted from Africa and Asia), traveling the world (he has visited 65 countries) and gleaning insights from conversations with his many noteworthy friends.
After two glasses of white wine, and after we exhausted all the economic and stock market topics, I asked John to what he attributes his success. He said, “I can tell stories. A lot of people can write; few can tell stories.” I think “maulding” a complex and often very boring economic topic into a story is definitely a rare gift, but as a fellow writer I have some additional thoughts on John’s success (as well I might, since I have shamelessly plagiarized his writing style for years). When I started writing, my articles were very proper and extremely boring. After I read John’s newsletter, I realized it didn’t have to be that way. I saw that I didn’t have to hide the real me in my writing. As readers we are not just reading for the message; we want to relate to the messenger.
John treats writing as a continuous conversation with his readers, therefore people who have read him for years feel like they know him. But here is the key: The John you like through his writing is the real John. Yes, the real John is not as well polished as the writer John – very few writers are. When you write you get to carefully weigh every single word, just as I am doing now. You don’t have that luxury in live speech. The real John may throw an expletive or two into a conversation. He may speak with a slow Texas drawl – print destroys accents (believe you me!). But it becomes impossible to fake the real you on paper when you write once a week for years. Or maybe the better version of yourself that you try to show to the world in your writing changes you little by little until you gradually become the character you portray in your newsletter. I can personally attest that Vitaliy the writer has changed the real Vitaliy.
The John you get on paper is the John you get in real life. He’ll treat you as if you are the most important person in the world to him. And though I felt very special being around him, I noticed that this is his default behavior. When John and I walked into the restaurant he gave a warm smile and a hello to every person in our path. When he talked to the waiter, it was as though he’d known him all his life. He committed 100% of himself to that conversation.
Comparing my behavior – when I talk to waiters, my mind is often elsewhere. I sometimes look at a waiter and don’t see him or her. I’ve caught myself a few times being unable to describe the waiter I just talked to. John, on the other hand, is totally into whomever he’s talking to at the moment, and the person can sense it. A great lesson for me and something I definitely have to work on.
The next day, after our meeting with John, Alex and I drove to Fort Worth and met a friend of mine, a very successful hedge fund manager. John came up in the conversation, and my friend mentioned that John had been very generous with him – had even shared his season baseball tickets – a decade ago when he was a nobody and just launching his hedge fund..
I think the biggest lesson I learned from spending four hours with John Mauldin was, be kind to everyone, all the time.
(John Mauldin and me in the lobby of his apartment building in Dallas)
P.S. I wrote about my evolution as a writer in this article a while back.
I am the CEO at IMA, which is anything but your average investment firm. (Why? Get our company brochure here, or simply visit our website).
In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.”
I’ve written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (I’m working on a third - you can read a chapter from it, titled “The 6 Commandments of Value Investing” here).
And if you prefer listening, audio versions of my articles are published weekly at investor.fm.