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Who was Sir John Marks Templeton? Part I

Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008), an American-born British investor, founded the Templeton Growth Fund in 1954, established the Templeton Prize in 1972, founded Templeton College in 1983, and founded the Templeton Foundation in 1987. Born in Winchester, Tennessee, he followed an elder brother to Yale University.

Templeton was able to support himself in college when his family suffered financial setback during the Great Depression and he graduated in 1934 as President of Phi Beta Kappa. A Rhodes Scholar, Templeton earned a law degree from the Balliol College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford, in 1936.

While he was at Oxford, Templeton and his fellows Rhodes Scholars benefitted from a program developed by Lady Francis during World War I to introduce American army officers to British high-society. He and his friends also used time off from studies during Christmas, Easter, and summer vacations to tour Continental Europe buying reduced-price student train tickets and using old Baedeker’s guidebooks to find inexpensive hotels, youth hostels, or Y.M.C.A.s.

After Templeton graduated, he and his friend James Inksetter, who studied at Cambridge, spent seven months on a world tour. Templeton had saved up $400 while at Oxford and spent just £90 on the trip.

Further, when they returned to the U.S.A., they shared their stories with former classmate Arthur Gordon, who wrote an article and sold it to Good Housekeeping, and shared what he thus earned with them, which covered half the cost of their trip.

They visited thirty-five countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Palestine, India, China, and Japan. Their world tour began with a six-day stay in Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games.

Relying again on Baedeker’s guidebooks, they stayed at hotels that charged an average of twenty-nine cents per night. To avoid the risk of being robbed of all their money, they used 80% of their funds to purchase traveler’s cheques they mailed ahead to American Express offices they visited in Athens, Jerusalem, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

Upon his return to Tennessee, Templeton married his first wife, Judith Dudley Folk. She was a graduate of Wellesley College whose family owned a vacation home in Tennessee.

They had been secretly engaged for three years. Their high-society wedding made a big splash in the newspapers of Nashville.

The Episcopalian bishop of Tennessee performed their wedding on April 17, 1937. The reception followed at Belle Meade Country Club. There were twelve bridesmaids and sixteen groomsmen and ushers, including many of Templeton’s college chums from both Yale University and the University of Oxford.

They spent their two-week honeymoon at the floating gardens of Xochimilco near Mexico City. John and Judith would go on to have three children: John Marks Templeton, Jr. in 1939, Anne Dudley Templeton in 1941, and Christopher Winston Templeton in 1946. In May, the newlyweds went to New York City to find jobs. She found a job where she earned $150 per month with Young & Rubicam, an advertising agency with offices in the Chrysler Building.

In 1938, Templeton became a Wall Street investor. After a short stint (three months) with the brokerage firm of Fenner & Beane, where he made $150 per month, a fellow Rhodes Scholar, George McGhee (1912-2005), got him a job that paid more than twice as much at $350 per month as the Secretary-Treasurer of the National Geophysical Company down in Texas, where Judith Dudley Folk Templeton founded an ad agency.

They both saved half their incomes to make investments, with the result that when they returned to New York two years later, they had a healthy nest egg. While they resided in Texas, John and Judith Templeton had a pleasant ten-day-long vacation in Nassau in the Bahamas. Templeton would save half his income to make investments for twenty years.

Looking at a world in the midst of the Great Depression and on the brink of war in Europe, he saw countries, industries, and companies that hit rock-bottom "points of maximum pessimism." [World War II had already begun in Africa in 1935 and Asia in 1937 before Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia invaded Poland in 1939. The Second Great World War resulted from multiple regional wars coalescing.] With the outbreak of war in Europe, Templeton borrowed $10,000 from his former boss at Fenner & Beane to buy 100 shares each in 104 companies.

These were all companies where shares of stock sold at $1 or less per share. Thirty-four of these companies were in bankruptcy, and yet only four of these 104 companies would prove to be worthless. He turned a large profits on the 100 other companies. Within a year he was able to pay back the loan and by the time he had finished selling all the shares of stock, he had made $40,000.

To keep half their incomes free to make investments, the Templetons took such measures as renting a sixth-floor apartment in a building on East 88th Street with no elevator for $50 per month and budgeting only $25 to furnish five rooms. The acquired their furniture at auctions held by people who were moving. The most expensive piece of furniture was a sofa-bed that had cost its original owner $200, which they purchased for $5 and used for twenty-five years.

In 1940, he acquired a small investment advisory firm that had only eight clients from an old fellow named George Towne. In 1942, it merged with Vance, Chapin and Company and became Templeton, Dobbrow and Vance, Inc.

Upon hearing Fenner & Beane, was merging with Merrill Lynch, the thrifty Templeton purchased Fenner & Beane’s research library for $20. When he opened his first office in the R.C.A. Building at Rockefeller Center, he told his secretary to only purchase second-hand typewriters because brand new typewriters lost 40% of their value when they left the store. Discovering that his company was outgrowing that office, he moved the research department to a 2,000—square-foot blighted space above a pharmacy near his home in Englewood, New Jersey, which he was able to rent for $1 per square foot per year, and then spent a few hundred dollars to repair the entrance, as Templeton’s biographer, Professor Robert L. Herrmann, explained in Sir John Templeton: Supporting Scientific Research for Spiritual Discoveries.

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