Arnold Van Den Berg is a superinvestor. He’s the Chairman, CEO, and Portfolio Manager at Century Management, the value-focused investment firm he founded in 1974. Since then, Arnold and his team of approximately 45 employees have grown the portfolio from $250,000 to $2B in AUM. With no college degree or formal higher education, Arnold Van Den Berg is living proof that anyone with the right work ethic and mindset can be successful in the world of investing.

We’ve had the opportunity to interview Arnold several times in the past years and each time, our conversations are packed with uplifting stories and wisdom from his 45 years in the investment industry. Here are some of the highlights and nuggets from those talks.

Watch the full conversation in The Manual of Ideas Premium Members Area.

On Dreams and the Power of Visualization

Arnold started his career in the investment industry selling life insurance and mutual funds. After diving deeper into the mutual fund business, Arnold then decided to make it his life’s goal to become a successful money manager. But instead of taking the typical path by attending a prestigious university to study finance, Arnold just decided to go to work on himself, with the books and resources already available.

One technique Arnold is extremely fond of is visualization. Take for example the inspiring story about the visualization process he used to imagine himself as a successful money manager.

I thought, “That’s it. I’m going to visualize myself that I’m this guy, that I’m a successful money manager,” so I started to picture myself and this guy was standing in front of a desk. He had a dark suit on and there was a little shadow in his face, but he was basically standing there real proudly in front of his desk. I cut out that picture and I started visualizing. Once I had it in my mind, I put my face on the picture and I just pictured myself.

After engraving this image in his subconscious mind, it wasn’t long before Arnold was coincidentally asked by a friend to contribute an editorial piece to a new consulting magazine. Once the article had been submitted the magazine sent a photographer to take some portraits of Arnold to include along with the story. When the piece was finally compiled and ready to be published, Arnold talks about his startling reaction upon seeing the finished copy.

It was like a proof. I said, “Okay, I’d love to see it.” He comes down and he hands me this envelope with a brown cover on it. He says, “Take a look at it.” I pull it out and I looked at that, I was just shocked. He says, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?” I said, “I just can’t believe it.” He says, “Why?” Then I told him the story about how I was trying to figure out how to visualize being a successful money manager and I didn’t know how to do it until I say the guy and this is exactly how the guy looked.

If you’ve ever experienced anything like this in your own life, you know that it can have a profound impact on your confidence in what’s possible. For Arnold, it was the affirmation he needed that he was on the right course, and to not give up on his dream.

Watch the full conversation in The Manual of Ideas Members Area.

On Sacrifice and Motivation

In the video above, Arnold shares one of his more personal stories about being a child during World War II, and how it affected the rest of his life. His parents were both survivors of the Holocaust, and in the course of the war, Arnold was a victim of malnutrition. When the war ended, Arnold’s mother took him to see a child psychologist to evaluate his condition. It was then that the psychologist told Arnold that he had permanent psychological damage from his experiences and that he probably wouldn’t be as bright as the other kids.

Instead of giving in to this bleak diagnosis, Arnold took it as a prescription to work harder.

The hardest thing in life is to figure out what do you really want to do more than anything. What are you willing to give up, every kind of pleasure or any kind of diversion and devote yourself to that?

There’s another amusing example from Arnold’s past that demonstrates his relentless dedication to self-education. Early in his career, Arnold says he was dating a beautiful woman, who asked if he’d like to come over for dinner on a Wednesday night. Although he replied that he’d like to, he said he couldn’t because he was studying. The girl then remarked that she hadn’t realized Arnold was attending school. “I’m not,” said Arnold, “But I’ve got a study program.. I’m going through this book and I want to finish it by Sunday and then I want to work on my next book.” The consequences for not going on the date was being behind in his reading schedule by one day, but that was more than enough for Arnold.

Watch the full conversation in The Manual of Ideas Premium Members Area.

Where does one cultivate such tremendous motivation? If you ask Arnold, it’s intrinsic.

The only motivation comes from the inside and so what you have to do is set that goal, picture it, work at it and believe in it. Once it takes hold, it’s like an instinct. It’s like you’ve got to eat. No matter how busy you are, at the end of the day, if you’re real hungry you’re going to stop and eat, even if it’s on the run, but you’re going to do it.

The yearning for success must be instinctive. You’ve got to treat it with the same regard and effort as an olympic athlete practices her chosen sport. When asked about leaning on external sources of motivation, Arnold says he prefers not to listen.

People go to listen to motivational speakers and all that, I’ve never listened. I never go to those sessions because I know that they can pump me up one day, but then I get back to my office and I’m struggling with my problems, doesn’t do any good.

For someone told at a very young age by a psychologist that he’d never be as bright as the other kids, this shows Arnold’s profound wisdom and self-belief, skills that have undoubtedly helped him in his investing career. 

Summary

There are many roads to investing success. Yet, Arnold’s story from being a war victim to a self-taught superinvestor is particularly uplifting. It’s further confirmation in this idea of using the tools you’ve got. Investors often expend so much energy looking for an informational advantage that will give them a guaranteed return, that they neglect to study the information already sitting at their fingertips.

Throughout his career and life, Arnold Van Den Berg has been a believer in the power of visualization, self-belief, and hard work. Armed with these three, Arnold is living proof in the possibility of living out your dreams.

Book Recommendations from Arnold

From Poverty To Power by James Allan

The Biology of Belief by Bruce H. Lipton