PHILADELPHIA (TheStreet) -- Not many people adore a mutual fund company or think of a retired CEO as their patron saint. But some exist and they call themselves Bogleheads after John C. Bogle, founder of mutual fund giant Vanguard and a champion of low fees for investors.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Bogleheads gather for their 13th annual meeting. True believers in index funds and low-cost investing will talk about investing philosophies and how to keep more of their money while paying pay less in fees. The meeting also includes a trip to Vanguard headquarters as well as a "fireside chat" with Jack Bogle.
So who are the Bogleheads, and what can they teach the average investor?
The Bogleheads began 40 years ago when the Vanguard Group was formed on Sept. 24, 1974. The idea of the company was novel -- instead of a fund company owning and profiting from the mutual funds it managed, as all other mutual funds were (and still are) organized, Vanguard would place ownership of the funds with the shareholders themselves. In other words, these mutual funds would truly be mutually owned. There would be no conflict of interest between the mutual fund company and the shareholders, and fees would naturally be limited by the owner (i.e., the shareholders).
The company's first fund, the First Index Investment Trust, now called the Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFINX) (VFIAX) (VOO) , was incorporated on Dec. 31, 1975. The fund now holds $183 billion in assets, up from a mere $11 million in 1976.
Vanguard's founding ideas of low costs and broad diversification appealed to many do-it-yourself investors, and the company grew by more than 20% annually in the subsequent decades.
When the dot-com era arrived in the late 1990s, that DIY ethos was embraced by some investors who frequented the message boards at Morningstar's (MORN) Web site. A few stubborn fans of Vanguard and its low fees and index-fund slant -- among them Taylor Larimore and Mel Lindauer -- advocated for a subforum just about Vanguard. Morningstar agreed.
The Vanguard Diehards forum started up in 1998. There, investors congregated, discussing how to save more money, plan their investments, avoid mistakes and retire without worry. They posted their portfolios and helped each other make financial decisions without professional advice.
In 2000, the group had a small in-person meeting at the Miami home of Taylor Larimore. Larimore has led a storied life, and his role in the Vanguard Bogleheads is just part of it. He has been a World War II paratrooper, a scuba diver, a life insurance underwriter, a revenue officer for the IRS, an executive in South Florida's Small Business Association, director of the Dade County Housing Finance Authority, and, on his 90th birthday, winner of the Biscayne Bay Sailing Regatta. He's been profiled in Money Magazine and Forbes.
The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing was published by Wiley in 2006, authored by Larimore, Lindauer and Michael LeBoeuf. A second edition appeared this year. A follow-up, the Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning, was published in 2011 and co-written by Larimore, Lindauer, Richard Ferri and Laura Dogu.
By 2007, the Diehards had created their own Web site, bogleheads.org, and renamed themselves the Bogleheads. (Internet message-board drama prompted the move -- yes, even retirees have schisms -- but the site moderators found practical advantages in having their own site, too.) Alex Frakt and Larry Auton, the site's hosts, have built the site, which now gets more than 16 million page views a month as of earlier this year.