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What I Learned From Arnold Van Den Berg - Part 2

You cannot do good and not get paid

April 12, 2020

Right before I was set to first meet with Arnold Van Den Berg (Trades, Portfolio) in November of 2012, I was very nervous and anxious. It was the first time I had met a value investing legend.

When he greeted me with a big smile and the warmest welcoming words, my nervousness and anxiety went away. He put me at ease right away. We then took a quick tour of the office, and one thing I noticed was how happy and down-to-earth everyone was. He would smile and check in with everyone like he would with his family. It was a refreshing scene.

After joining Van Den Berg’s fund, I gained first-hand experiences of how the value investing legend treats people around him the way he would treat his family. He is the kindest, most generous and caring human being I know. In fact, this is probably the most common description of his character from people close to them.

In my previous article, I wrote about how he helped me get on my feet in the real value investing world. It’s only one of the many examples of how Arnold Van Den Berg (Trades, Portfolio) has helped young people who he rarely knew. Being a renowned value investor, he receives dozens of emails and letters every day. Many young people from across the world write to ask his help and advice. Although he cannot respond to every single one of them, he will try to help in any way he is able whenever he can, whether it be through an encouraging email response, a phone call or even in-person meetings. I’ve spoken to and met some of the other aspiring young value investors Van Den Berg has helped, and one thing I’ve heard from all of them is that interacting with him had life-changing effects due to his inspirational character.

Van Den Berg also gives talks and speeches to students across all age groups. During those talks, he usually shares his stories and life lessons from the holocaust. For instance, Van Den Berg once shared a concentration camp story of a Jewish girl making up with her mother after an argument right before her mother was sent to the gas chamber. After the story, he told the students an important life lesson - never let arguments get in the way of making up with your loved ones. After Van Den Berg gave a speech to a group of middle schools one time, he got a thank you letter from one of students, which reads: 

“I want to thank you for bringing that subject up because I had a fight with my little brother. But I went home and we made up. Then we went to a football game at a large stadium and he fell off. It was almost twenty feet. He fell almost right on his head. I was thinking about it all the time in the hospital how I was so happy that I was able to make up before this terrible incident.”

So many students have sent Van Den Berg thank you notes after hearing his speech. He keeps them all in ring binders. I was really moved to see how much positive impact he has had on the world.

Besides giving speeches, Van Den Berg and his wife have set up a foundation to provide financial and hands-on resources to children in need. His wife is also heavily involved in a non-profit organization that provides a safe haven for children healing from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as neglect or abandonment. Usually, after a few months of healing, these children can mostly recover from the mental trauma from their unfortunate traumatic family-related events. I had attended a few events held by the organization with the Van Den Bergs. Their sincere love and caring really had huge positive impacts on those disadvantaged children.

Arnold Van Den Berg also cares deeply about his employees, especially with regards to physical and spiritual health. Healthy vegetable and fruit juices are prepared for the office every day. The kitchen’s always stuffed with enough veggies, mixed nuts, fruits and salad dressing to encourage healthy diet. There is a gym and even an in-house infrared sauna spa. Van Den Berg himself is an avid yoga practitioner, and sometimes he even took on the role of a yoga instructor himself at the office. You can’t help but live a healthy lifestyle under his influence.

He also treats his clients like families. His relationship with clients goes above and beyond investing. In many ways, Van Den Berg is also a mentor to his clients’ families. I remember one weekend I was working in the office, and I saw Van Den Berg teaching yoga to one of the clients because the client was having physical pains. A young high schooler was also with them. It turns out this young kid was the son of his client. He was a very smart kid, but he used to have a problem of getting cold feet during important events such as standard tests or cross country competitions. So his parents asked Van Den Berg for help, and he had been working with the kid for more than a year now to help him use his subconscious mind to overcome his mental issues. He even made the kid a personal tape recording. Amazingly, the kid’s performance dramatically improved; not only did he win the cross country competition, he also did superbly in the standard academic tests and got accepted by top private schools. Needless to say, his parents were very thankful for his help.

In a recent event, Van Den Berg said he got an inheritance from a client whose mother he helped almost twenty years ago. It was a huge sum of money, plus a brand new Cadillac. Van Den Berg didn’t expect it at all, but when I saw that, I was not surprised. He truly treats his clients the way he treats his families. That’s why so many of his clients have been with Century Management for more than three decades.

Van Den Berg is also the most forgiving person I know. When I worked for him, I made many mistakes. I’ve written about a few of them in the past. He never blamed me for any of those mistakes. When I asked him why he wasn’t upset with me with my mistakes, he said:

Look, we all make mistakes in life. When someone already feels bad about their mistakes and you know they’ll learn from the mistakes, there’s absolutely no point to be upset and play the blame game.” 

Most impressively, he harbors no anger against the Nazis, who killed thirty nine of his family members in Auschwitz. In a speech, he told the students why he has forgiven Germany:

“Almost every ailment that mankind suffers from is due to the fact that people have repressed anger. So one of the things that I learned is that when you have reasons to be angry, find a way to express it and learn to forgive. And one of the biggest problems I had was I had to forgive the German people for what they did to my family. We lost thirty nine members of our family. I don't have any cousins or uncles or aunts or anything like what you have. And that was a very important thing to me to have my own family.

But that creates, obviously, a lot of anger. And so by learning to forgive, you grow and you are able to go beyond that. If you get stuck in your anger, it gets you better, it gets you negative, it makes you depressed, and your whole life goes on a downward trajectory. So I want to encourage you all to understand the principle.”

I'll wrap this article up again with the following quote from Van Den Berg's interview with MOI Global a few years ago:

“If you serve people and you do a good job, and you love them and you take care of them like they are your family, there is no way you’re not going to make it. You can’t help but get paid if you do good.”

Thus, when it comes to success, I think we should all keep this in mind. The best way to be successful, both in one's personal life and one's career, is to live life like Van Den Berg. 

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About the author:

A global value investor constantly seeking to acquire worldly wisdom. My investment philosophy has been inspired by Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Howard Marks, Chuck Akre, Li Lu, Zhang Lei and Peter Lynch.

Rating: 5.0/5 (7 votes)



Jean-Francois Nobert
Jean-Francois Nobert premium member - 2 months ago

This man is quite exceptional when you think of what he went through and where he is now, it is quite unbelievable.

Great quote thanks for sharing:” by learning to forgive, you grow and you are able to go beyond that. If you get stuck in your anger, it gets you better, it gets you negative, it makes you depressed, and your whole life goes on a downward trajectory. So I want to encourage you all to understand the principle.

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