Today, we highlight the story of Ronald Read, a gas station attendant, mechanic, and janitor. He died at age 92 in 2014 with an approximately $8 million fortune. He bequeathed $1.2 million to the Brooks Memorial Library and $4.8 million to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. Interestingly, he often visited the hospital’s coffee shop and the library. The remainder was bequeathed to his stepchildren, friends, and caregivers.
Ronald Read had invested in dividend-paying stocks and owned a diversified portfolio of at least 95 stocks. He was not an active trader and followed a strict buy-and-hold strategy, keeping stocks for decades. He also lived very frugally to the point of austerity, allowing him to save. Lastly, he lived to 92, so time and the power of compounding were on his side. Consequently, he eventually became a secret dividend millionaire, an everyday person much wealthier than his appearance or job suggested.
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Ronald Read’s Biography
Ronald Read was born on October 23, 1921. He was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He enlisted in the US Army and served in World War II. Ronal Read was deployed to North Africa, Italy, and the Pacific theater. He received an honorable discharge at the war’s end and returned to Battleboro, VT. He worked at Haviland’s Service Station, owned by his older brother Frank, for 25 years. After a brief retirement, he worked part-time as a janitor at the J.C. Penney until 1997.
He married Barbara March in 1960. She had two teenage children. His wife passed away in 1970 from cancer, and he remained single. He died on June 2, 2014, at the age of 92.
Ronald Read’s Stock Holdings
Ronald Read owned at least 95 stocks, all dividend stocks in his portfolio. Reportedly, his first purchase was Pacific Gas and Electric Company which he bought in 1959. He initially acquired 39 shares for $2,380. This amount grew to $10,735 when he died in 2014. Additionally, he owned blue chip stocks like General Electric (GE), Dow Chemical (DOW), CVS Health (CVS), AT&T (T), etc.
According to an article by The Wall Street Journal, his ten most significant holdings were Wells Fargo (WFC), Procter & Gamble (PG), Colgate-Palmolive (CL), American Express (AXP), J.M. Smucker (SJM), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), VF Corp (VFC), McCormick (MKC), Raytheon (RTN), and United Technologies (UTX). The table below shows these ten stocks and the dollar values in his portfolio.
|Ticker||Company||Portfolio Value ($)|
|PG||Procter & Gamble||$364,008|
|JNJ||Johnson & Johnson||$183,881|
The total portfolio was approximately $8 million. Suppose the average dividend yield was 3%, then the passive income stream was about $240,000 at the time of Ronald Read’s death. He could have lived off his dividend income with little trouble considering his frugal lifestyle.
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How Ronald Read Became a Dividend Millionaire
He was frugal to a fault, never spent money unless needed, and avoided luxuries. For example, he drove a used Toyota Yaris. Additionally, he cut his own firewood and wore his clothes well past their prime using safety pins to hold a denim jacket together. Frugality allowed him to save money and invest.
Good Stock Picking
Ronald Read was an excellent stock picker. He selected stocks of companies he knew, and many were in the Consumer Defensive, Healthcare, Financial, and Industrial sectors. Furthermore, his portfolio was diversified with 95 stocks across different sectors and industries. He regularly looked at The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s to stay updated on his stocks.
Diversification showed its merit during the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Ronald Read owned Lehman Brothers, the investment bank when the stock crashed and the company went bankrupt. However, it did not seriously affect his total returns.
Buy and Hold Investor
He was a buy-and-hold investor, much like Warren Buffett. As Buffett has said,
All there is to investing is picking good stocks at good times and staying with them as long as they remain good companies.
Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.
Our favorite holding period is forever.
Ronald Read followed these maxims, holding onto stocks for many years throughout his investing career. In addition, he pursued a dividend growth investing strategy before it was in vogue. The dividend checks were reinvested into the same companies permitting the share count to increase and total value to compound.
He kept most of the stock certificates in his possession, leaving behind a 5-inch stack of certificates in a safe deposit box at his bank. Although inconvenient, this fact probably prevented excessive trading and let him slowly build wealth. But, arguably, today, trading is too easy.
Started Early and Lived Long
Ronald Read started investing relatively early, did not retire early, and lived a long life. Reinvesting the dividend and time let his total returns compound over many years. Time matters significantly to leverage the power of compounding.
Final Thoughts on Dividend Millionaire – Ronald Read
Ronald Read was a janitor and a successful dividend growth investor before the strategy was known by that name. His strategy was to buy income stocks and reinvest the dividends for decades. Consequently, he created substantial wealth and a passive income stream. Characteristics that helped his success was frugality, good stock picking, diversification, buy and hold, and leveraging the power of compounding. One warning is that Ronald Read did not enjoy his wealth. He seemed content accumulating wealth without actually spending it.
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Prakash Kolli is the founder of the Dividend Power site. He is a self-taught investor, analyst, and writer on dividend growth stocks and financial independence. His writings can be found on Seeking Alpha, InvestorPlace, Business Insider, Nasdaq, TalkMarkets, ValueWalk, The Money Show, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, and leading financial sites. In addition, he is part of the Portfolio Insight and Sure Dividend teams. He was recently in the top 1.0% and 100 (73 out of over 13,450) financial bloggers, as tracked by TipRanks (an independent analyst tracking site) for his articles on Seeking Alpha.