The Making of an Inc. 500 CEO: My Favorite Job
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Joe Mansueto was searching for the right job in the right company -- one that would suit his lifestyle, his intellectual curiosity, and his sense of community. He founded Morningstar to create it
If you've heard of Morningstar, then you've probably heard of Don Phillips. He's the publisher of Morningstar Mutual Funds (MMF), the fund investors' bible, Morningstar's cash cow. Phillips gets quoted a lot. He shows up from time to time on Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. His is the public face of Morningstar, a face that goes with a blue suit. Most people, when they meet him at conferences and whatnot, assume Phillips is the owner.
Not so. The hidden face of Morningstar is a face that might go better with a puppet: apple cheeks, eyes like blue marbles, a knobby brow, a Nixonian nose. It's the face of Joe Mansueto, Morningstar's founder, president, and sole owner. At 37, Mansueto is five years older than Phillips, but you'd never guess it. He wears weekend clothes to work every day: khaki pants, a cotton polo shirt (green today, purple tomorrow), moccasins. He'd rather listen than talk. When he does open his mouth, his voice sometimes breaks. On his own turf, in the airy reception room at Morningstar's new headquarters, in Chicago's north Loop, Mansueto, tentatively extending his right arm for a handshake, makes you want to put him at ease.
Mansueto started Morningstar 10 years ago, in a one-bedroom apartment, with $80,000 in personal savings. His interest in mutual funds was unusual for the time, almost cultish, like his childhood fascination with ham radio. "I just believed in them as a concept," Mansueto says now, "that the long-term fundamentals of mutual funds were very positive, that they were the best choice for maybe 90% of investors."
That potential 90% of the investing public became Morningstar's market. Mansueto's radical idea, as it evolved, was to cover mutual funds the way they might be covered on the sports page: with stats, rankings, analysis, and critical commentary based on interviews with the fund managers. His readers, he assumed, would be investors like himself: bright, curious, independent -- "people who wanted to choose among funds and try to make intelligent choices."
It was pretty clear from the start that Mansueto was onto something. His first $6,500 advertisement in Barron's yielded about $25,000 in paid subscriptions. Readers responded enthusiastically. "My eyeballs popped out of my head," says Cathy Gillis, then an unemployed former history major, now a Morningstar editor. "I was just floored. I had to be a part of it." (Don Phillips, once a disillusioned graduate student at the University of Chicago pointed toward a Ph.D. in American literature, saw in Morningstar a chance to head off in a whole new direction. "My plan was that I'd become an English professor, but I'd be an active investor on the side," says Phillips. Now he reads on the side.)
The product was right, but so were the times, and both played a part in Morningstar's growth. After the crash of 1987 the stock markets erupted. From the trough of October 19, 1987, to the peak of January 31, 1994, the Dow rose 2,240 points, or 129%. As stocks soared and interest rates sank, certificate-of-deposit savers all over America became mutual-fund investors. Novices jumped in with their IRAs, their 401(k)s, and their kids' college money. Fund managers such as Fidelity's Peter Lynch became financial superstars. Fund assets soared, from $770 billion at the end of 1987 to $2.1 trillion in 1994. Today more than one in four U.S. households has a mutual-fund account.
Morningstar rode the wave, building on its reputation as the mutual-fund authority, expanding its coverage to closed-end funds, variable annuities, and foreign stocks, and offering new products via fax, floppy disk, and CD-ROM. As recently as 1990, the entire company comprised 35 people shoehorned into the back half of the fourth floor of Chicago's historic (read: dingy) Monadnock Building. Today Mansueto has close to 400 employees ("We had 10 people start last Monday") spread across four light-filled floors in a glittering new office tower with Morningstar's rising-sun logo on its front. Revenues surpassed $1 million in 1989, doubled in each of the next two years, nearly tripled in 1992, and doubled again -- to more than $21 million -- in 1993. Numbers like that will put you on the Inc. 500 list; Morningstar has been there four times, climbing steadily to #136 on the current list.
Mansueto looks like one happy entrepreneur. (He'll tell you as much, but you may have to ask him more than once. "It feels a little awkward for me to talk about myself," he says. "I feel more comfortable talking about the company.") He has no plans to sell, no ambition to go public. He lives off his salary, takes nothing out of the company. He has fun doing.
"It's very creative," he says of running Morningstar. "As we get bigger, it gets even more fun because we have more resources in our control and can take on bigger projects. The incremental changes, they're very satisfying -- adding another floor, adding another product, adding more people, watching them grow and develop. I enjoy tremendously what I do."* * *
"Joe," said his little brother on the day the shipment arrived from the supplier, "what are you going to do with all those crickets?"
"John, there's a big demand," Joe insisted. He was 9 years old, just starting out. The idea was to sell the crickets to the neighbors as garden accessories. He had ordered 1,000 of them. "He was going to make a lot of money," his father recalls. "But they all died." So much for an early entrepreneurial success story.
Joe Mansueto's father, Mario, was born in Italy in a poor hill town east of Naples. He is the son of a laborer who came to America, found work on railroads and in factories near Chicago, and saved for the day, 10 years later, in 1928, when his wife and children would join him. Mario was a bright student, strong in math. He won a scholarship to Purdue and became the first in his family to go to college. The navy put him through medical school. After his service was up, he settled in Calumet City, Ill., not far from his parents' house, and opened his own practice as an ear, nose, and throat specialist. He married Sara Smart, a nurse.
There were four children. Joe was the second, the oldest of three sons. If you go looking for signs of a budding entrepreneurial spirit in Joe's childhood, they're not hard to find. After the cricket debacle, there were successes. Once -- was it in sixth grade? -- he bought a vintage Drake 2-B shortwave receiver for $100 at a gathering of ham-radio enthusiasts, and turned around and sold it two weeks later for $300. That was neat -- "the first time I ever made any real money," he says -- but you shouldn't read too much into that statement. The pleasure Joe got from ham radio had little to do with discovering bargains at ham fests. It was the community that mattered, the tight camaraderie, the shared sense of mission.
"If you had a problem, other people would join in and help you solve it," Mansueto says. "If you were building a transmitter and it didn't work, we'd kind of tinker with it, and it would be like an intellectual exercise. It was never 'What's in it for me?' It was 'How do you solve this problem?" Mansueto hasn't fooled with ham radio for more than 20 years, but he hasn't forgotten Morse code and can still recite his catchy call letters: WB9DGY.
The end of his ham-radio phase coincided roughly with the family's move -- two towns south, one rung up the social ladder -- to Munster, Ind. The Mansuetos settled into a modern ranch house on a large lot in an oak-filled subdivision a short walk from the park, the public library, and the high school. At Munster High, Mansueto was a standout student, active (but not necessarily a leader) in peripheral groups. His picture never made it into the yearbook senior year, but his list of club memberships did: Drama (he was on the stage crew); Musical; Thespians; Science Club; Chess Club; Speech. (Was he a geek? Mansueto says no, not him, but his friends were. "I hung around with a lot of geeks, people who were very good in math and science. I kind of like those people.")
When the time came, Mansueto applied to Purdue (a state university), Northwestern, and the University of Chicago, and was accepted at all three. He chose the University of Chicago because he could choose -- his parents were paying -- and because "it seemed to tolerate eccentrics a little more than Northwestern. It had a little more focus on pure learning, less on all the rigmarole. I just felt more at home there."
Joe Mansueto might have been a doctor. He had the academic skills, and his father encouraged him. But while he took the same physics and chemistry courses in college that the premed students did, he had no interest in practicing medicine. His indifference was partly a contrarian's natural reaction to the times. In the mid-1970s, at elite schools like Chicago, it seemed as if almost everybody was premed. Mansueto was turned off by all that: by the pack mentality and the fierce competition to get into medical school that started when you were a freshman, and by the plain fact that so many were choosing the profession for all the wrong reasons. "People were doing it just to make money," Mansueto says, "not because they wanted to be doctors."
Mansueto was interested in "a gazillion things": architecture, the guitar, literature. His best subjects in high school had been math and science; reading had always been a chore. Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights, Jonathan Livingston Seagull -- those are the titles he remembers from then. Even today they elicit groans. Until he got to college, he didn't know reading could be thrilling. But then it clicked, and he began to read voraciously.
Among the first books Mansueto read at Chicago was Thoreau's Walden, the last line of which is, "The sun is but a morning star." "I remember very vividly," he says. "It was the 10th week of the fall quarter, right before finals. I was sitting up in the library, looking out over the quads, finishing Walden. The name Morningstar comes from that book. To me it's a very optimistic statement, that the sun is just the beginning, that there's a rebirth, something beyond, and that there's more to life than what exists today." (Fine. But Nancy Morningstar, if you're reading this, Mansueto hasn't forgotten you, either. "Oh, yes!" he says, blushing. You were one year ahead of him at Munster High, you had blond hair, you were "kind of this beautiful girl," he says dreamily. Let's just say the word resonates in a pleasant way for Mansueto, and leave it at that.)
Mansueto still had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Why should he have to apologize for that? He was not his grandfather, after all, who'd had to take a job, any job, and be glad to have it. And he was not his father, who had come to medicine "just on a whim," because his roommate at the boarding house in West Lafayette where he'd lived while attending Purdue had been premed, and because being a doctor was plainly better than working in a factory. Joe Mansueto was another animal altogether, an upper-middle-class kid from the suburbs -- smart, idealistic, naïve. "I was not that interested in making money," he says. "I kind of looked down on that. I was focused more on learning."
A career in business wasn't even in his radar -- until one day, under pressure to choose a major, he wandered into the campus placement office and had a life-changing conversation with a counselor there, a woman whose name he can't even remember.
"What about business?" she asked him.
"Not creative enough," said Mansueto." (He imagined a shopkeeper, he says now, haggling with suppliers. "I guess I had what I thought were higher aspirations than that.")
But she came up with lots of examples of companies that were doing creative things, and that started him thinking -- not so much about business in general as about entrepreneurship. About creating a company of his own; finding something that challenged him and captured his interest; pursuing it with like-minded companions; building an ideal community. Life as one big ham fest was the basic idea.
Mansueto enrolled in the Professional Option Program at Chicago. That meant he could start business school as a senior and finish early with two degrees, a B.A. and an M.B.A. It was a shock, he recalls, "to go from college, where you're in these literature courses and there are no answers, to all of a sudden the next day being in business classes, where you're talking about the market share of Crest in Ohio. I was kind of taken aback."
Mansueto's B-school roommate was Kurt Hanson. He was more outgoing than Mansueto, perhaps, but was otherwise a like-minded spirit. Hanson brought Mansueto in on a venture he'd begun earlier, a soda-and-snack service. They did business out of their dormitory suite, in the former Shoreland Hotel. Room 607 Soda Service, they called it. Twenty flavors of soft drinks, 15 brands of snacks, open 24 hours a day.
The University of Chicago School of Business, circa 1979, was graduating two kinds of people: free-market ideologues committed to exporting capitalism around the world, and techno-wiz consultants schooled in the latest econometric theories. Hanson and Mansueto were on a different wavelength. "We'd get together on weekends and brainstorm," says Hanson. "We thought about restaurants. We thought about starting a chain of stores that would sell movies on videotape, but then we thought, 'Naaah, that would never work." Finally, they settled on a business Hanson already knew something about: market research for radio stations. Strategic Radio Research (SRR) was the name they chose. Degrees in hand, they rented an office in the suburbs and went to work.
As it turned out, tabulating the responses of listeners in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to "Peaceful Easy Feeling" was more Hanson's thing than Mansueto's. Business was good, but Mansueto was beginning to have second thoughts. He was afraid that SRR's success relied too heavily on the two partners. He couldn't imagine how they'd ever be able to sell their products in more than one market at a time. And he was beginning to clash with Hanson, as partners will. Hanson was a more willing spender, for one; it was his idea to rent an office and fill it with furniture right away. Mansueto, by temperament, was more of a pay-as-you-grow company builder. His values were Thoreau's: simplicity, independence, thrift -- "great things for somebody who's 17 years old, but also for somebody who's going into business," Mansueto says.
But the biggest influence on Mansueto at this stage in his life was not Thoreau or Rousseau ("He said to take the course opposite the custom and you'll do well") or Einstein ("He said the things that he pursued in his life were goodness, beauty, and truth, and not comfort and happiness") or any of the other great thinkers he casually refers to in the course of ordinary conversation. Rather, it was Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor from Omaha. Mansueto had first heard about Buffett in college, and went on to read everything he could find by him and about him. Buffett's rational approach to investing ("If you can't understand it, don't do it"), his systematic, dispassionate approach to evaluating companies and their prospects, made sense to Mansueto. "I began to see a vision of how business worked, in a way I really didn't get from business school," Mansueto says. "Why certain businesses were succeeding and others weren't. I think I spent a good deal of my time in my twenties just thinking about that very question: What are good businesses and what are bad businesses?"
Mansueto's growing interest in investing led him to investigate other stock-pickers and to study their methods. He sent away for mutual-fund shareholder reports and scrutinized lists of holdings. "This is really fascinating material," he recalls thinking. "Too bad somebody doesn't compile it and make it available." A vision was slowly coming into focus, of a life's work that would combine Mansueto's passion for investing with a moral component -- tools for the little guy -- and be a good business to boot.
In 1982 Mansueto left SRR (he sold his half stake to Hanson for $138,000 in 1985) and went in search of some "real company" experience. First stop: Golder Thoma, a Chicago venture-capital firm, where he worked on a team that was filing applications for cellular licenses around the country for Pagenet, a $257-million communications company then in its start-up phase. He worked 60-hour weeks and thrived -- for four months. Then he quit. "He had a future with us," says Carl Thoma, who was sorry to see him go. Next stop: Harris Associates, a Chicago money-management firm, where he was a securities analyst covering media and food stocks. Harris managed to keep him a little longer, but not much: 14 months.
Mansueto admits to no inner wavering during that period in his life, no sense of drift. Others, observing him, were less sure. He was 27 years old, four years out of business school, and already he had turned his back on at least three viable, lucrative careers (four if you count the private-investment partnership he managed for family and friends, the Mansueto Value Fund; five if you don't dismiss the two-month stint as a night manager at Arby's learning about the fast-food business). His doubts about SRR, it turns out, were unfounded. Two years after Mansueto cashed out, Hanson put the company on the Inc. 500 (#176 in 1987, #217 in 1988); revenues reached $5 million in 1993. And how could he have left Golder Thoma? "My father had a hard time understanding that," says Mansueto.
Then again, Mario Mansueto had never understood the concept of choice the way his son Joe did. For Joe (thanks to Mario and Sara), opportunities were just that, opportunities. Some were better than others, but none had to be taken. What Joe really wanted now, more than anything else, was to start his own business. "Deep down, I missed that entrepreneurial environment," he says. "I wasn't controlling my own time."
Enough said. Time to move on. "For a man is rich," Thoreau wrote, "in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone."* * *
Once, late on a summer night in 1988, Mansueto felt a sharp pain in his chest and thought he was having a heart attack. Later it was diagnosed as pericarditis -- an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. It was a onetime occurrence and, in Mansueto's case, not serious. He doesn't run marathons anymore, but he still works out daily. The only reason the episode bears mentioning is that it occurred on the day Mansueto asked a woman to marry him. Of course, as Mansueto is quick to point out, "correlation is not necessarily causation. We make that point in our fund analyses all the time." And probably he deserves the benefit of the doubt -- doctors know of no connection between pericarditis and stress. But the illness did help him change his mind. Mansueto continues to see the woman, but six years later he's still single.
Today Mansueto lives the kind of life that other people his age -- who may have families with small children, and lives that pull them in several directions at once -- cannot fathom. Home is a rented one-bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago, four blocks from the one-bedroom apartment where, working alone during the summer of 1984, he researched and wrote the first issue of his first publication, Mutual Fund Sourcebook. He sleeps on a futon. In the center of the living room is a large Japanese table, maybe a foot off the ground. On another, smaller table -- also knee height -- is a computer. There are no chairs, only black pillows scattered on the floor. There are books, of course, and a stereo; the television is in the bedroom. Otherwise, there's not much. "It's amazing," says Joe Sutton, Morningstar's chief financial officer, about Mansueto's apartment. "There are very few things on top of other things."
"I think that may be in response to the chaos he grew up in," says his mother, Sara, unapologetically. Sara was pregnant so often in the early years of her marriage that she had to give up her nursing career. But, she says, "I wouldn't want to give the impression that I didn't pursue my own development." She set up soup kitchens in Gary, Ind., and Calumet City, worked with alcoholics, and earned two more undergraduate degrees, in history and business. She didn't always have a whole lot of time left over to clean house. "He always tried to find order on his own," she recalls. "He was very particular about his room. He kept everything straight, whereas I'm pretty sloppy. I think that kind of bothered him. In fact, he used to take me to task about my housekeeping."
Mansueto gets up every morning at 5:30 and goes for a run. On the days he doesn't play tennis at Chicago's East Bank Club ("He's a keep-the-ball-in-play, patient guy," says MMF editor John Rekenthaler. "Doesn't go for the kill at all"), he arrives at the office, by taxi, at around 7:30, and devotes an hour to reading the newspapers. Every night, after a 12-hour day, he walks home, a straight shot three miles up La Salle Street or, when he's in the mood, a longer, prettier stroll up Michigan Avenue to Lake Shore Drive, past the high-rise luxury apartments, and through the park. His normal bedtime is 9:30 p.m.
His social life is . . . predictable. Lunch with his father in town most Wednesdays, Sunday dinner in Munster with his parents, regular (though not as frequent as they used to be) dinners with Hanson and two other college friends (the Bainbridge Club, they call themselves). His former fiancée lives in North Carolina now, but the two still see each other; recently they went to France with Mansueto's parents. "I think Joe's happy," says his mom, "but I think he'd be happier if he got married, I really do. It's good to be close to your family, but we're not always going to be here. I'd like Joe to get married and have children and live a normal life."
Foreign travel aside (scheduled, usually, around business trips to the Morningstar office in London), it's not clear how he spends his money. Not on cars; he drives a 1988 Montero and parks it on the street. Or clothes; his favorite haberdasher is the Gap. "I feel rich when I walk into the Gap and I can buy anything I want," he says without irony. "Like, I bought six colors of this polo shirt. I don't really worry about the price. I'll spend 400 bucks at the Gap like that." He has a weakness for a concoction he calls "tea misto" (tea with steamed milk) that he special-orders at Starbucks every day, but it doesn't cost any more than what's on the menu.
"Here's another extravagance," he says finally. "I have a woman who cooks for me, cleans for me, grocery shops, does my laundry, pays my bills. She's wonderful. As soon as I come home, she has dinner mostly prepared. Then she'll start the wok or whatever, cook it up. Then, when I'm done eating, she washes the dishes and goes home. It lets me work longer. It lets me focus more on what I need to do."
In the beginning, his focus was on the product -- "like a laser beam," Mansueto says. The earliest hires worked side by side with Mansueto in his apartment. Even after the first move, things changed very little. Phillips remembers long, quiet days at the Monadnock building, all 10 of them together in a tiny room, listening to classical music on WFMT while they worked. (Until the opera music came on, the same time every afternoon. Mansueto would grow agitated and eventually would stand, stretch, and walk across the room and change the station. "Opera really grates on Joe's nerves," Phillips says.)
As Morningstar has grown, Mansueto's focus has shifted. "One of the pleasures of my work is reinventing my role continuously," he says. "In the beginning I was very enmeshed in operations, which you need to be. And then, as we grew, I would hire people, until eventually all the pieces were delegated to other people, who can do them far better than I can. That took a good five years, to get to the point where I thought, 'I can't be worried about getting the publication out. Somebody's got to be looking out for the greater good of Morningstar.'
"Today I feel like there are four things that are my key responsibilities. One is setting the strategy for the company -- trying to figure out what Morningstar should look like, what products we should be offering, how we fit into the competitive landscape. Two is allocating capital and making sure that those capital-allocation decisions go about supporting that strategy. Three is making sure that we're attracting and retaining the best possible people. That's so key, it's something I'm going to be spending even more time on. And then four is making sure this is an environment where people can flourish, where they can succeed, and that allows for the creation of great products."
A lot of people who work at Morningstar think it's significant that Mansueto chose not to name the company after himself. They say it's symbolic of the company culture. "I'm always amazed by how hands-off he is," says Liz Michaels, Morningstar's chief operating officer. "Some-times it's a little unnerving." Rekenthaler concurs: "In the six and a half years I've been here, he has never told me what to do on anything." Adds Gillis, "What I like best about Joe is he leaves me alone." It took Rika Yoshida, a Morningstar editor, one week on the job before she figured out Mansueto was president -- and he had interviewed her. "The man has no ego," says Phillips, "no ego whatsoever."
But it's ironic that Mansueto would hide himself so, when the company is so plainly an expression of his will, his preferences, his personality. The obvious way to get ahead at Morningstar is to have attended the University of Chicago and studied something with no relevance to business. Phillips earned his master's degree from Chicago before he got sidetracked. Rekenthaler completed the course work for his master's at Chicago, in English, but never finished his thesis. Yoshida studied anthropology at Chicago; Gillis, history; Michaels, an anomaly, economics. Indeed, the only members of Mansueto's executive committee, known as the strategy committee, who don't get the Chicago alumni magazine at home are Sutton, the CFO (University of Illinois); Kurt Herrmann, the marketing man (Northwestern); and Julia Katz, head of human resources (Northwestern). Visitors to Morningstar are often struck by how quiet the place is, how absorbed in their work everybody seems to be, how you don't meet many backslappers and hand-squeezers around the office. ("Bookish, shy, self-deprecating" is how Phillips describes the workforce. "You've got a lot of people here who didn't set out to have a career in business," he says.) That's not surprising. It's the same quality of place Mansueto observed on his first visit to the Chicago campus and found so appealing: "A little more focus on pure learning, less on all the rigmarole."
And if Morningstar is a close, flexible, democratic community, it's because that's the kind of place Mansueto wants it to be. The only people who have offices with ceilings and doors are the office manager and two managers in human resources. Everybody else has a cubicle (the higher-ups, like Mansueto, have corner cubes, but a cube is a cube). Dress is casual -- there are lots of bare legs (men's and women's) and Birkenstocks during the summer. Facial hair is OK. Benefits are generous: stock options for everyone who has been there two years, eight weeks' paid family leave, six weeks' paid sabbatical every four years, and $1,500 for unrestricted tuition reimbursement every year, not to mention free apples and oranges every day in the lunchroom and free bagels on Wednesdays.
Vacations, sick days, work schedules -- those are fuzzy issues at Morningstar. "Rather than having an elaborate scheme of expected work hours, maximum time off and so forth," it says under "Time Off" in the Employee Handbook, "we prefer to give people the freedom to decide what is appropriate in their particular circumstance."
Yes, well. Of course, what happens when you have a policy like that is most people end up working more than they would otherwise, not less, especially when the boss never seems to take a vacation. That may be why last Christmas everybody in the office chipped in to buy Mansueto a week at Vic Braden Tennis College, in San Diego, for several thousand dollars. They stole his date book, found an empty week, and wrote Vic Braden in. "We had to," says Sutton. "He's one of those people who wouldn't do it for himself. That's what makes him so likable."* * *
Mansueto is such a nice guy that no one has ever seen him get angry. OK, once. It was years ago. A hard disk crashed, the backup hadn't been done properly, and Morningstar was out a week's worth of data entry. Everybody else was in convulsions, "turning purple and screaming and cursing," as Rekenthaler puts it. And Mansueto? "Joe was standing there saying, 'Rats. Oh, rats."
Is he too nice? That's a reasonable question. For as Morningstar enters its second decade, Mansueto is facing a host of unprecedented challenges. Of the many factors that fueled Morningstar's phenomenal growth, two -- a monopoly in its market niche and ever-rising stock prices -- no longer apply. Last November Value Line Inc., a cash-rich public company best known for analyzing individual stocks, launched a copycat mutual-fund service. In February the stock market peaked; most mutual-fund investors have been losing money ever since. MMF's circulation is down 10% from its early-1994 peak. Morningstar Japan, which covered Japanese stocks, proved so disappointing Mansueto discontinued it this past summer. The upshot is that 1994 sales are expected to rise only about 30% to 35%, to about $30 million. "That's not bad by itself," says Michaels, "but compared with other years, it's shocking."
Morningstar's future is in Mansueto's hands, that much is obvious. One thing he hasn't delegated is control of the company. And in the past, time and again, Mansueto has responded to challenges aggressively, in a way that would seem to belie his mild manner.
"Joe's always got the pedal to the floor," says Rekenthaler. "Joe's always thinking growth. He was the one who was pushing three years ago to have our product on CD-ROM, when nobody knew what a CD-ROM was. Joe was the one doubling our space in the Monadnock building in 1989. As far as I can remember, our business had been flat for 18 months. We were looking at each other, saying, 'My goodness, this is crazy.' He wanted to plan for growth no one else saw. That really is where Joe is indispensable."
There were always safer ways to go. Mansueto might have used MMF, the flagship product, to generate a torrent of cash flow, abandoned product development, done a public offering, paid off the shareholders, and gone home rich a long time ago. "That never even entered the picture," says Gillis, a member of the strategy committee. "From day one he's taken the cash and invested it in the company."
Toward what end? There's a grid Mansueto will draw for you. One axis is for modes of delivery: annual, monthly, and biweekly publications; floppy disks; CD-ROMs. The other axis is for databases: mutual funds (open and closed); variable annuities; ADRs (American depository receipts, or foreign stocks traded on U.S. exchanges); foreign stocks. The goal, Mansueto explains, is to expand the database axis to include coverage of U.S. stocks, putting Morningstar in direct competition not only with Value Line but also with Moody's and Standard & Poor's, and finally, to establish Morningstar as "the world's leading provider of financial information."
"I really think in business you get rewarded for boldness," Mansueto says. "There's a saying by Goethe, 'Whatever you think you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has a genius, a power and a magic about it.' If you can do something bold, all of a sudden you're on a different plane. It's important to keep doing that. That's the fun of doing this."
TOP 10 THINGS JOE MANSUETO IS LEAST LIKELY TO SAY
By Joe Sutton, CFO, Morningstar
10 "Let's go to Taco Bell for dinner. I hear they have free pop refills!"
9 "I have a black-tie affair this weekend. I'm so excited!"
8 "My subscription to People is late again!"
7 "I think I'm going to spend the afternoon working on my tan."
6 "I'm knocking off early today to catch the end of the O.J. Simpson trial."
5 "Before we launch this product, we need to do extensive market research."
4 "I think [insert employee] is doing a terrible job!"
3 "Let's rename the company -- Mansueto Analytical Services!"
2 "I think Jean does a great job with Value Line."
1 "You're fired!"