Month: January 2020

Tom O’Hara

In 1940, Thomas E. O’Hara (1915-2009) helped form a Detroit investment club to learn about stocks, coached by young broker George A. Nicholson, Jr. (1908-1996). In 1951, O’Hara and Nicholson started the National Association of Investment Clubs with three Detroit area clubs to teach people how to evaluate a company for possible investment. In 1958, O’Hara began working full time for NAIC, now Better Investing.

During a break-out session at a NAIC convention 25 years ago, I noticed no one joined the table hosted by Tom O’Hara. I thanked him for his work with NAIC and his community. We had a delightful 20-minute one-on-one conversation. He was a wealth of experience and wisdom.

I gleaned much from monthly meetings in a club of Methodist clergy, dubbed the Wesley Investment Society (1982-2005). As a volunteer in the 1990s, I led workshops (via overhead projector, hand calculator and colored pens) about NAIC tools, such as George Nicholson’s Stock Selection Guide. I met many people, made lasting friendships, and adopted a simple frame for investor education: “We learn from each other.”

I have been shaped by many forms of community: family, neighborhood, school, teams, organizations, clubs, networks, staff colleagues and faith groups. Learning is contagious and I’ve become a life-long student.

Tomorrow: What I’ve learned as a student of dividends.

Tom O’Hara and George Nicholson, charting NAIC’s first four years of growth

Ben Graham

Benjamin Graham (1894-1976) disrupted the investing world by practicing, teaching and writing about the art of investing. His best known student at the Columbia Business School was Warren Buffett, class of 1951.

Graham wrote two classic books on investing. The Intelligent Investor (1949) is the best introductory book I know about how to participate in the stock market. Security Analysis (1934) co-authored with David Dodd (1885-1988), a professor of finance at Columbia, is now in its Sixth Edition (2008). A free PDF download of the Sixth Edition is available here.

Two disrupters and builders in my life were Phillip Huckaby (1934-2019) and Burns Nesbitt (1932-1999). They invited some younger friends to form an investment club. Our first meeting was in February, 1982, during a bear market that bottomed six months later with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 780. Phillip and Burns knew it was a great time to start an investment club. The DJIA closed on January 29th at 28,734.

Phillip and Burns disrupted our lives by sending an invitation. They were patient builders who taught us what they had learned about the stock market. We learned from each other.

Those early investment club days now seem primitive compared to the data available today 24/7 via the Internet. Phillip and Burns opened a door for us to a much larger world. I’ll share some of that world in tomorrow’s post.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy some wisdom Charlie Munger (born 1924) learned from Warren Buffett (born 1930) about “How to Simplify Your Life.”

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is disrupting several industries. In aerospace, SpaceX has a platform at Cape Canaveral alongside NASA. Tesla’s website targets three industries for disruption: “Electric Cars, Solar Panels and Clean Energy Storage.” Musk is disrupting the fossil fuel industry. My friend Kirk Spano, a student of the oil and gas industry, sees fossil fuel disruption happening faster than he (and many others) anticipated. Musk’s next challenge is to build these disruptive enterprises into enduring companies.

Since 1982, my hobby has been the study of companies, particularly (for the past ten years) strong companies with relatively safe, growing dividends. Here’s where the innovator’s dilemma meets the investor’s dilemma. Early oil companies, led by John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) disrupted the whale industry. Today, many oil companies pay large dividends, but will they be disrupted by Musk and other renewable energy companies?

Sunrun’s Lynn Jurich seeks to disrupt Elon Musk’s leadership in solar panels. Like most young enterprises, Sunrun (RUN) does not yet pay dividends, but it’s fun to learn about disrupters. Those that last have within their core leadership persons with the capacity to build as well as disrupt. Jurich’s morning mantra is: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.”

Lynn Jurich,
Guerin Blask photo for The New York Times

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) embodied yesterday’s theme about innovators and “disruptive” technologies. From biographer Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs:

“…customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

“Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the phone?”

“I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”‘ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. … Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

In 2008, it was time for a new cell phone. I went into a store to buy a Blackberry. I liked the miniature keyboard. The young clerk said, “Before you decide on the Blackberry, can I show you my phone?” I said, “Sure.” He pulled out his iPhone with the touch screen and performed two or three maneuvers. About one-fourth of the way through his 60-second sales pitch, I said, “I’ll take one.” I had encountered a disruptive technology.

Other disrupters: Moses, Jesus, Graham Bell (1847-1922), Bill W. (1895-1971).

Steve Jobs, from

Innovator’s dilemma

You may have missed it amid impeachment, a coronavirus outbreak and interminable campaigning: Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen died on Thursday. It’s been 23 years since his groundbreaking book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Christensen described why it’s hard for a company to excel at their existing, “sustaining” technologies but not so good at developing new, “disruptive” technologies.” The dilemma: How to sell your widget while at the same time inventing the product that will make that widget obsolete.

Some disruptors: Henry Ford, Sam Walton, University of Phoenix, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos.

Here are the final sentences from Christensen’s New York Times obituary:

“I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

“Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved,” he continued; “worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”

In 2012, Christensen collaborated to publish a book perhaps more significant than his classic text on innovation:

Space Force

On Friday, the Pentagon rolled out the new logo for the U.S. Space Force, which will be part of the U.S. Air Force. I lived in Huntsville from 1987-1991, during a time when NASA’s work was somewhat overshadowed by the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. Some NASA engineers who were nearing retirement in those years were sad that the peaceful exploration at the heart of the early space program had become militarized.

Military and scientific exploration have co-mingled since the beginning of the space program. As a child, I remember people in our neighborhood gathering outside one evening to get a glimpse of a Soviet spacecraft as it orbited the earth. NASA’s early budgets benefited from our national fear of being behind the Soviet Union in space exploration.

The intense competition of the 1960s became a cooperative project involving several nations as the International Space Station. A major step occurred during the final Apollo spaceflight in July, 1975. That mission included docking with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft.

The logo of the U.S. Space Force has generated interest among Star Trek fans because it’s similar to one of the Starfleet logos.


I’ve wondered if I need a business card. No evidence so far. Maybe with one word in larger letters: “Imperfect.”

In 1992, I walked our son Rob home from his second day in kindergarten. I asked, “What’s wrong?” He said, “I didn’t have a perfect day.” “Perfect” wasn’t how we measured days at our house, so I said, “Tell me more.” His well-meaning teacher gave stickers to students who had “a perfect day.” He didn’t get a sticker. We had a good, imperfect chat on our walk home.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was serious about Christian perfection. He saw it as a goal bathed in humility, not an achievement bathed in pride.

I don’t know if President Trump is being dishonest, role-playing, or trapped in an illusion. Whatever it is, his insistence of a “perfect” phone call to the Ukrainian President is part of a larger pattern of claiming perfection for himself and everything he does. It’s difficult for him to apologize, admit mistakes or ask God for forgiveness.

I hope one day he’ll be able to receive his own imperfection not as fake news, but as Good News. A recognition of one’s imperfection takes a load off. It’s a relief. It’s the essence of grace. I know because I’m imperfect.

Beware anyone whose business card says “Perfect.”

Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer (1934-2020) died yesterday. Last night’s PBS NewsHour featured a 15-minute remembrance of Lehrer plus a 15-minute closing segment moderated by Judy Woodruff with Robert MacNeil, Sharon Percy Rockefeller and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

In 2011, Lehrer retired after 36 years as anchor of the PBS evening news program that went through several name changes. He moderated a vice-presidential debate and 11 presidential debates, the most of any journalist.

As a 30-year-old Dallas newspaper journalist, he covered the assassination of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and then moved to the Dallas public TV station. He pioneered local public TV news in Dallas and then nationally in Washington. I was among many US viewers introduced to Lehrer and MacNeil during their marathon coverage of the Watergate hearings.

Lehrer was an “old school” journalist who, insofar as possible, left his opinions at the studio door. He sought to be objective. His obituary headlines described him as “low key.” His goal always was to “not get in the way” of the news and the people he covered. He did it well.


A few weeks ago I mentioned Joe Elmore’s weekly GRACEWORD. Today, I’m passing along this week’s GRACEWORD from my friend of 47 years, which is about Politics. To be added to Joe’s Thursday emails, contact him at:

Grace and peace!

Are we (am I), by attitudes, words, or actions, contributing
to the present fear, separation, and political stalemate
that is dishonoring and crippling our country? 

Let’s begin where immediate change can happen:

I will not speak words that judge or condemn any person
or group of persons.

I will honestly seek to understand why other persons
think and act as they do.

I will make a sincere effort to honor each person I encounter.  I will be kind in all my relationships. 

I will vote for persons who hold the values and have the
leadership skills that are needed at this critical time in history.

I will maintain a global perspective, not simply what is good
for this nation, but what is good for the world community. 

Thank you for listening!



I last saw her over 47 years ago, on June 8, 1972, when she was 9 years old. I only saw her once, through the lens of Pulitizer Prize winning Associated Press photographer Huỳnh Công Út (known as Nick Ut). All I knew of her was one photo that I’ve seen numerous times through the years. Once was enough. Her name is Phan Thi Kim Phuc. She goes by Kim Phuc. She was born in Vietnam. Now she’s a Canadian.

Kim Phuc founded the Kim Foundation International, which seeks healing for the children of war. Last year, she was awarded Germany’s Dresden Peace Prize. I saw her last Thursday on the PBS Newshour. She was featured in their “Brief But Spectacular” segment. It is brief–less than five minutes. You can watch it online here. The full title is “Kim Phuc’s Brief But Spectacular take on pain and forgiveness.” She tells how her faith has given her peace and joy through the power of forgiveness. You can read more about that in a 2018 Christianity Today article.

If you don’t remember the photo of the famous “Napalm Girl,” you can find it at the articles or the video linked in this post. I would rather include the more recent photo of Kim Phuc below. That’s the way I want to remember her. Communities and nations can be torn apart by war. But, there is in this Universe a mystical power of healing. I can’t explain it. I can point to it. I’ve tasted it more times than I can count.

This is one of those times.

Kim Phuc, from Christianity Today (linked above)