Bill Moller – 1927-2020 RIP by Jack Moller, CFP®Submitted by Moller Financial Services on August 20th, 2020
With a combination of sadness and gratitude, I’m writing this month with the news that my father Bill Moller passed away peacefully a few weeks ago after a short illness. He was not only my dad but also my partner and co-founder in starting this business as well as being my market mentor. Of course, I feel sad that my dad is no longer in this world, that I can never speak with him again, but I am also grateful for his 93 years (and my 62-plus with him). My dad had a great love of markets and sports. I’m happy to say that he passed both those on to me … even if we had to wait a long time for the Cubs to win the World Series (2016) and Northwestern basketball to make the NCAA tournament (2017). He even managed to combine sports and markets in some of his early articles with his regular “View from the Rocking Chair” column. In my last conversation with him, he asked me how the market did that day and about a few stocks in particular. Markets fascinated him to the core.
My dad was a very caring, kind, humble man with a great sense of humor. In fact, he had us laughing until the end –
- He loved to tell everyone that he was still an optimist even in his elder years as he said, “I’m still buying green bananas!”
- While he aged well even into his 90s (he never liked it when I pointed out that he was in his 10th decade), he also liked to impart his wisdom telling us “…there are three stages in life – childhood, adulthood, and you look good!”
- In his last few days, he was fairly well medicated so I thought I’d see if I could catch him by asking “Can you tell me now, who your favorite son is?” He didn’t skip a beat- “I don’t have a favorite son … I don’t like any of them!”
I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to have a father who left us with his sense of humor intact and making clear that he was ready if this was the time the Lord was going to take him. And, at the same time, I really miss him.
While some people reading this knew my dad and will enjoy hearing some stories, hopefully others can get a feel for the man who was so impactful on me coming to be who I am today as a man and as a financial advisor. If you will indulge me, I thought I would go through some history of Moller Financial and how my dad was instrumental, especially in its early years. In fact, if it wasn’t for my father, I don’t know if Moller Financial would be in business today. He helped me get started as I was transitioning (I was fired actually) from a trading job (because day trading was not one of my strengths) into the role of being a financial planner/advisor.
Back in 1991, I had the idea of opening my own shop when a former employer asked me to manage his money. I figured with one client how could I go wrong. Well, my dad after spending his career in “the pits” of the Board of Trade, said that he wanted to help me get going. He had a few friends whom he had already been helping to invest on a complimentary basis. Although he was only helping three friends at the time, he did have a long history working with markets as a commodity trader for most of his career. Thus, Bill had much more credibility than my 34-year-old self. So, we opened “shop” in August 1991. We rented a small office over a Chinese restaurant in Glenview, Illinois. I can’t really say that it was super high-end with the aroma of chop suey wafting up at lunchtime every day. Maybe the best indicator of the sparse digs was that the rent payment was a bit lower than my monthly train ticket to Chicago had been for my last job. And, to furnish it, I rented a U-Haul and drove down to St. Louis to pick up some used office furniture from my brother. We were off and running.
With an office, some furniture, a phone (rotary I think) and a near first generation MacIntosh computer we were set. All we needed were clients – and some income as I had a 9-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a baby on the way. In stepped Bill and Jack Moller & Associates, Inc. was born. My dad invested some capital in the company and agreed to contribute by writing a column in a newsletter. While the two of us regularly wrote commentary, my dad’s articles were clearly the favorites as his wisdom and humor spilled out into them. We’ve been digging some of them up and hope to include them occasionally in our current newsletter/blogs as his wisdom is ageless.
Quick aside. As I mentioned, the company started out as Jack Moller & Associates, Inc. but is now Moller Financial Services. There were a few reasons for the change including the fact that my associates were really just one associate - Dad. However, the big reason had to do with caller ID. When I called clients, the name that kept coming up was “Moller, Jack Ass” … while I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I’d been called that, I was offended with AT&T broadcasting it. And, they wouldn’t change the caller ID, so I changed the name of the company!
Words of Wisdom from Dad
I’d like to share a few of the funny, yet wise, comments:
Technical analysis. In the early days of Moller Financial, we thought that we might be stock pickers. Since it would be hard to compete with the stock analysis budgets of some of the behemoth financial firms, I thought that we might get an edge by utilizing stock charts to discern the trends of individual companies, known as technical analysis. My dad, harkening back to his days using charts to trade soybean futures said, “Just remember every ship at the bottom of the ocean has a chart room in it!” So much for using technical analysis. Thank goodness.
Taking a Profit. He did mention that there was a saying, “Nobody goes broke taking a profit” that he thought while technically true, did not make sense. As a trader, he was more interested in cutting losses and letting profits run or as I think Peter Lynch said that we want to “water the flowers and pull the weeds.” A Board of Trade friend of my dad’s and a client of ours, however, felt it was okay to take a profit on part of the position and put it this way, “when they pass the plate around, it’s okay to take a cookie!”
Getting stuck in a bad trade. He actually wrote a whole article on this one, but the punch line is that as realization sets in that this one was a bad trade he thought, “forget the cheese, I just want to get out of the trap.”
Boring markets. Occasionally, we experience markets that don’t seem to be making any upward progress nor are they selling off but seem sort of aimless. His admonition at these times was to “never sell a dull one”. In other words, dull markets often are just biding time until their next advance. I’ve found this to be helpful advice more often than not, though as long-term investors and not traders it doesn’t really impact our approach.
Humility. Early on in my “trading” career, my dad taught me the importance of being humble when it comes to markets. He would tell me, “once you think that you’ve got it figured out, that’s when you are in trouble.” So, I would tell him that I think that I’m actually a humble person and he’d come right back with “well, you’ve got a lot to be humble about!” Thanks, Dad.
Hearing Loss. Unfortunately for my dad, his hearing loss continued to decline over the years so that he really had more and more trouble hearing over time. Near his last years working at Moller Financial, he would occasionally answer the phone when I was out and leave messages like “the whisperer called”. Oops, that did not work too well. I’m afraid that he not only passed on a love of markets and sports but also some hearing loss. Recently, I had a procedure done to burn off some skin conditions and they told me afterward to avoid being out in the sun for three days. When I asked if it was okay to work, the doctor answered, “Is your office bilingual?” I thought this bizarre and said, “No. Why does it matter if it’s bilingual?” The doc didn’t quite laugh out loud but said that she had asked, “Is your office by a window?” Like father, like son!
The Mix of Gratitude and Sadness
At the age of 70, Bill decided to step out of Moller Financial and finally retire for good. Yet, his imprint on Moller Financial remains to this day. I’d like to think we are a humble, caring company that continues to find great joy in helping our clients achieve financial comfort and freedom. I hit the jackpot with my dad and am grateful for the opportunity to have gotten closer to him over these last few years. Yet, as I’ve heard, “grief is the price we pay for love”. It hurts but is very much worth it.