A Tribute to Jeff Zaslow

He is a father. A husband. A terrific writer and storyteller. A mentor to many. A kind and witty person.

That was yesterday. Today, Jeff Zaslow is gone. The result of a tragic auto accident.

It makes no sense. The one who so beautifully told the world so many lessons of how to live, by capturing the thoughts of Randy Pausch, himself has died at far too young an age.

I met Jeff a number of times. I heard him speak and would see him at the grocery store. He thanked me for being a loyal and paying Wall Street Journal print customer, years before the digital world. And he truly meant it. He said without people paying for journalists, they would not be able to tell the stories that should be told.

Jeff became famous for telling the story of Randy Pausch, first by writing in the Journal about Pausch’s “Last Lecture,” then writing the book of the same title. But a key part to this story is that it was Jeff’s own initiative and instincts that enabled that story to be told. The Journal did not pay for him to fly to attend Pausch’s speech. Jeff was determined, and had the journalist’s sense, that this was a story that would be too important to miss. So he drove many hours, attended the lecture, and wrote an article, which resulted in the book which has affected and touched so many lives.

For me, the “Last Lecture” became even more meaningful when I re-read it over two summers with my then 11-12 year old daughter. We would sit on our favorite place on the reading couch, and read a few pages or a chapter at a time. We would have great and meaningful discussions about life, overcoming challenges and obstacles, and her goals and dreams. Through Randy’s lessons, and Jeff’s writing, my daughter and I grew so much closer.

I had just returned to Detroit after spending a week out of town, visiting with clients and prospective clients, when I heard the tragic news about Jeff. I had a great week, talking with these families and listening to them. We discussed their dreams, concerns, family backgrounds and shared many great meals. We talked mostly about the future. How we would help them to live and enjoy the future. And then the future became so immediate and crushingly quick to an end.

We all have to plan for the future….and hope that we are lucky to be able to live and enjoy it. It seems to be such a fragile balance at times.

So today I feel so much sadness for Jeff’s family, for his wife and his three daughters. Like Randy Pausch, Jeff will have left them a great legacy, but one that is inexplicably too short.

What We Learned in January 2012

• Markets continue to surprise analysts, which is why we do not think that Wall Street forecasters add value. The major US markets were up in January, 2012, with their best January in 15 years. Few people would have predicted these gains. As we focus on the long term, the stock allocations of our clients benefited.

Foreign markets did better than US markets in January 2012. This is the opposite of what occurred during 2011. This further shows that stock markets cannot be accurately forecasted on a consistent basis.

• During numerous meetings with prospective clients, we saw examples of portfolios that were not even close to being properly diversified. We also saw many illiquid holdings, where these people could not readily access their funds. Other brokers had placed them into investments which may take months or years to get their money. We have never recommended such investments. Liquidity and flexibility are important.

Almost 60% of the US large companies that have reported earnings in 2012 have exceeded their forecasts. The economy and companies continue to be resilient, despite ongoing world economic problems and political uncertainty.

• We continue to learn in many ways, both live and through technology. Keith attended a national conference in Arizona. Via Twitter, Brad closely followed many of the sessions that were held during the AICPA Personal Financial Planning conference.

• Watching the movie “Moneyball” reminded me of when I read the book, when it was first published. The theme of both the book and movie, as well as our investment philosophy, is that it is hard or impossible to predict which baseball players (or stocks) will be successful in the future. Acquiring baseball players that few want (they are like out of favor stocks) can be cheaper and can provide a greater return on your investment. Moneyball is the baseball equivalent of “value investing,” which is a key component of our investment philosophy.