In the financial world, most leaders are not instantly recognizable by their first names.
Then there is “Chuck,” as in Charles Schwab.
Schwab, the 78-year-old founder of his eponymous company, Charles Schwab Corp (SCHW), basically created a new business category, discount brokerage services for millions of Americans.
Now a billionaire many times over—Forbes put his net worth at $6.4 billion as of June 8—Schwab has stepped away from his chief executive duties but remains chairman and the largest shareholder at Schwab. The investing legend sat down to talk about what he has learned from a lifetime of business success.
Q: As you became a success, what strategies did you put in place for handling your own wealth?
A: Coming from a modest economic upbringing, I learned early about how limiting and uninteresting self-satisfaction was as a goal in terms of using wealth—and how important modesty and philanthropy are.
Did you have any money role models who handled their life and business wisely, who you looked up to?
I was brought up in the latter part of the Great Depression, when money was really very tight. Pulling out of that was important to me. I spent my time reading the biographies of the country’s greats, especially in business, hoping to learn the keys to their successes. I learned particularly how success often came from their ability to build and motivate teams to accomplish a common purpose.
Many family fortunes go away after one or two generations—why is that, and what advice do you have for ensuring wealth sticks around for kids and grandkids?
Most of that comes from the effect of taxes and the dilution that comes from having kids and expanding the family tree. But I agree with that tax policy. What is most important is to leave kids and grandkids the values that helped make you successful in the first place. For me, that is the importance of education, of empathy, of working with a sense of shared purpose.
What money mistakes have you made along the way?
Fortunately, not many. But I really believe in serendipity combined with preparation. Be prepared for the opportunities that come along.
With your family foundation, which gave out $20 million in grants in 2014, how do you choose what causes to give to?
We have been involved in many things, but particularly in education, which we believe is profoundly important. Kids with learning disabilities are roughly 20% of the population, and it is important that we continue to find ways to help them manage through that, and get the education that they need to be successful in life.
What has been the best use of your wealth, in helping others?
Through our family foundation, we have made a significant effort to address learning disabilities—dyslexia, for example—drawing attention to the topic, and searching for solutions for affected families.
We have also focused on culture and its importance by supporting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which recently underwent a wonderful expansion that has made it a destination for modern art in the world. The arts are all about encouraging creativity and news ideas and ways of thinking, and I find great parallels there with business.
As a father and grandfather, with five children and 13 grandchildren, what life lessons do you pass along to your grandkids?
The importance of personal responsibility and kindness to others.
What life advice would you pass along to everyone else out there?
Make your own luck through education and hard work. Develop an understanding of your fellow man, and have respect and appreciation for their difference.