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What a Snowball Really Looks Like


I recently met an 89-year-old woman named Ginny. She has a passion for investing, math and numbers. We talked for three hours and I learned a few critical things. She taught me about successful simple companies, what it was like to be a woman investor in the 1960s, and what time can do for an investor. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did.

1.Success with Simplicity

Ginny lives in a small town in Minnesota and has been investing for many years. As a wedding gift from her father in law Ginny and her husband received shares of stock. She decided she had better learn about investing, that one gift fired her life long passion in investing. She slowly learned more and more until it became her main interests. Once she got started she never stopped.  

While Ginny and her young family were on a road trip, they stopped for breakfast at a pancake diner.  Time and again on this trip they ran into the same chain. Each diner had one thing in common, they all had overflowing parking lots! After her curiosity bubbled for a few states she asked the waitress if she knew who owned this chain. It was Quaker Oats. When Ginny returned home she bought many shares of the stock. Later, Pepsi bought Quaker Oats and that is how she came to own Pepsi. Ginny invested in something she was curious about, that she was a customer of and that she understood. Slowly, with time it became something much bigger than that. “We don’t want everyone in the world to run out and buy Pepsi stock. That would push the price up.”

In her later years of investing she bought Valspar, which we know now as Sherwin Williams. She bought Valspar because she walked into her friend’s house and immediately fell in love with her walls. Yes, of course after falling in love with those walls she did a lot of research. All you need is a stock that you understand, to believe in what the company does and a lot of research.

More recently, Ginny bought an oxygen company. As an 89-year-old woman, she saw that most of her friends were on oxygen. This is a good example of investing in what you know.

Even with a long history of investing Ginny has decided to stick with the companies she is familiar with. She is a great example of how investing should be viewed. Ginny found things she knew about and loved, paint color and pancakes, and checked their numbers. Investing may seem like a gamble, but it really comes down to investing in what you know and making sure the company meets the requirements you want it to.

2. Stocks and Scones

unnamed.jpgWhen I visited Ginny last fall our conversation started out with deciding what tea we wanted. We talked about everything from flowers to fridges to investing. Ginny is a thoughtful, welcoming and very down to earth woman with many good investing tips and ideas. Don't get me wrong, this woman is the real deal when it comes to investing.  She just wears a smart blue sweater instead of a three piece suit, her corner office is her dining room table with a sweeping view of the river.

My favorite part of our meeting was when I walked in the door and instead of interviewing her, she started interviewing me. She asked what stocks I own. I listed a few when I got to some of my prouder holdings, Pepsi, her face brightened and she quickly, loudly stated, “I beat you on Pepsi, I beat you on Pepsi!” She made it very clear who the investing queen was. She proceeded to tell me she was no genius, and not a mathematician, she looked at the numbers and watched the people.

After doing a thorough analysis of the stock Ginny can normally tell you if that stock is a keeper or not. She made it very clear that there is no trick to investing. You just need to invest in what you know whether that is a toy company or everyday things that you find in your daily life. She writes everything down and she reads the annual reports.

I would like to point out the obvious, she is a woman. Being a young woman interested in investing in the 1960s was difficult and Ginny explained it in the perfect way, “if you didn’t go out and play cribbage with the other ladies then you got frowned upon. There were some things you had to do. You weren’t yourself. You were a Mrs. Somebody.”

Investing is a useful skill for everyone to have. It doesn’t require leaving the house therefore even “house wives” back then could use investing. You need money, a sense of risk and a sense of numbers, that is something the majority of people have, including 1960’s “house wives.”

Ginny taught me a lot about being a female investor. You have to stand up for yourself and work twice as hard to get the same treatment. My experience with her was very inspiring. I asked Ginny what was the biggest mistake she made with investing and what she learned from it. She responded with confidence, “Everybody makes mistakes and I haven’t done anything horrible.”

3. What Time Can Do For You

When Ginny married into her husband’s family she acquired some of her husband’s holdings. His grandfather would give everyone shares of the company he worked for, Otter Tail Power Company, for Christmas every year. Slowly, she became more and more interested in the fun and power of investing.

Ginny’s main tip was to keep track of everything that you have bought, sold or looked into. Ginny said, “Before she would write things down to remember them but it is very important to not solely rely on someone else, like a stockbroker, to keep track of your stocks.”

Her second tip was to invest in things she knows and believes in. Through the time that I talked with her I heard many stories about many breakthrough stocks. Ginny says the best way to get a good feel for a stock is to read the company’s annual reports and keep up with their activity.

One of my favorite stories about Ginny is when she thought she was dying. Her relatives drove her to the hospital and while she was laying in what she thought was her deathbed she glanced over and saw the hospital tray, it was made by Kimberly-Clark (KMB). She said, “I did very well with that stock!”

I learned so much from her and she helps justify one of my investing beliefs. All you need is time and a good stock. She has a very humble knowledgeable way of explaining investing. Time and again she said, “It doesn’t take a math professor to know how to invest, and I am no mathematician.” Now, as an 89-year-old she is learning Algebra because as a high schooler she was never given the chance to learn anything after Geometry. Even with age, she knows what investing path she wants to go down, and how to get herself there despite the roadblocks.

After mentioning all these companies she has been successful with we should look at their current numbers. Obviously, they all have grown and changed since she bought them, but this is what they look like now.

Price to Earnings Ratio
20 or lower
Dividend Between 2-5%
Gross Margin
25% or higher
Return on Equity (ROE)
15% or higher
1.0 or lower
Otter Tail Power Company (OTTR)
Kimberly-Clark (KMB)
Sherwin Williams (SHW)
Pepsi (PEP)

4. Ginny Has a Bone to Pick with Warren Buffett

I wanted to review the stocks Ginny mentioned during the interview. I didn’t include all of them, but these are ones that stuck out to me. If we look at the current data we can see that they all, with the exception of Sherwin Williams, passed the same amount of hurdles. All these companies have three things in common. They all have higher P/E ratios, some dividend, and very good margins. From this, we can get a taste of what Ginny looks for in a company and her investing values. Some of her values are buying stocks that are meant to be held for long amounts of time, buying high-quality companies and finding high-paying dividend companies.

Noticing her love for dividends brings me to another story. As most investors do, I idolize Warren Buffett.  I asked her opinion of Berkshire Hathaway. Her quick response was surprising. She said, “If he isn’t going to give us dividend, why am I buying your stock?” She previously owned Burlington Northern, a train company, and was not too happy when a dividend free investor bought the company. Before Berkshire Hathaway bought Burlington Northern, Burlington was a dividend paying company making the adjustment even harder for her.  Ginny lives off her dividends and has no interest holding something that won’t pay her back in cash over the short term.

Now that we’ve looked at the current state of each company we will look at how much they’ve grown in 20 years. These companies were all held for different amounts of time, some longer than others and some shorter, but 20 years is a good estimate to show what time can do. I used Long Run Data to find these numbers. Each company started out with an original investment of $1,000.

Annual Return
Growth in 20 years with an original investment of $1,000
Otter Tail Power Company (OTTR)
Kimberly Clark (KMB)
Sherwin Williams (SHW)
Pepsi (PEP)

5. Why Do You Invest?

I want to leave you with a very important story and question. As I said, when I walked in the door instead of interviewing her as I planned, she started interviewing me. After taking my coat off she asked me a very important question, “Why do you invest?” This took me awhile to come up with a thoughtful and honest answer. But Ginny says it the best, “Much better than slaving in a hamburger place.”

This is a question that everyone should be asking themselves. Why do you invest? Whether you are just starting or have been investing for most of your life. Why do you invest?


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