John Templeton, Investor, Dies at 95
Published: July 9, 2008
John M. Templeton, a Tennessee-born investor and philanthropist who amassed a fortune as a pioneer in global mutual funds, then gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to foster understanding of what he called “spiritual realities,” died on Tuesday in Nassau, the Bahamas, where he had lived for decades. He was 95.
Emile Wamsteker/Associated Press
In 1997, John M. Templeton, left, appeared in New York with Pandurang Shastri Athavale, recipient of the Templeton Prize.
The foundation awards the Templeton Prize, one of the world’s richest, and sponsors conferences and studies reflecting the founder’s passionate interest in “progress in religion” and “research or discoveries” on the nebulous borders of science and religion.
In a career that spanned seven decades, Mr. Templeton dazzled Wall Street, organized some of the most successful mutual funds of his time, led investors into foreign markets, established charities that now give away $70 million a year, wrote books on finance and spirituality and promoted a search for answers to what he called the “Big Questions” in the realms of science, faith, God and the purpose of humanity.
Along the way, he became one of the world’s richest men, gave up American citizenship, moved to the Bahamas, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and bestowed much of his fortune on spiritual thinkers and innovators: Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the physicist Freeman Dyson, the philosopher Charles Taylor and an array of prominent Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
Inevitably, the Templeton charities engendered controversy. Critics called his “spiritual realities” a contradiction in terms, reflecting a fundamental incompatibility between science and religion. To many, the very idea of “progress” in religion seemed strange, and giving grants for “discoveries” in the field invited accusations that science was being manipulated to promote religion.
But Mr. Templeton was unmoved. A Yale graduate, a Rhodes scholar, an audacious investor, a Presbyterian who preached open-mindedness and eschewed literal interpretations of Scripture, Mr. Templeton — who began annual meetings with prayers, he said, to clear the minds of shareholders — made billions as a pioneer in his globally diversified Templeton funds, often taking the old advice of “buy low, sell high” to extremes.
As a 26-year-old investor in 1939, when World War II began in Europe, he borrowed $10,000 and bought 100 shares each in 104 companies whose stocks were selling at $1 a share or less; 34 of the companies were in bankruptcy. A few years later, he made large profits on 100 of the companies; four turned out to be worthless.
In 1940, he bought a small investment firm that became Templeton, Dobbrow & Vance, the early foundation of his empire. Mr. Templeton embarked on mutual funds in 1954, establishing the Templeton Growth Fund in Canada to reduce the taxes of many shareholders — Canada then had no capital gains tax — and to emphasize the global reach of its investment strategy. It was one of the first mutual funds to invest globally.
As investor interest widened in the 1950s, he started funds specializing in nuclear energy, chemicals, electronics and technology. In 1959, his firm Templeton Damroth, with five funds and $66 million under management, joined a surge of others in going public.
The flagship Templeton Growth Fund, which was separate from the Templeton Damroth funds, also reported impressive growth, posting a 14.5 percent average annual return from 1954 to 1992; a $10,000 investment, with dividends reinvested, would have grown to $2 million.
Mr. Templeton sold the Templeton family of funds — scores of them, with billions in assets — in 1992, and turned to philanthropies that had engaged him for decades. While he was an elder of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), he took a broad view of spirituality, espousing nonliteral views of heaven and hell and a shared divinity between humanity and God. And he insisted on high ethical standards in business, contending that a lack of them would lead to failure.
Maintaining that almost nothing of God was actually “known” through Scriptures and theology, he founded the Templeton Prize in 1972 to foster “progress in religion” — an idea that included philosophy and exemplary conduct relating to love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity. He called the prize an effort to redress the fact that no Nobel Prize was given for religion.
Its first recipient, in 1973, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received $85,000 for her charities. In the 35 years since, the prize, given in London, has grown to $1.6 million. Its criteria have been refined in recent years to encompass “progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities.”