The Billionaire Broker: The Early Years of Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab always had difficulty in school, but he never knew why. Today, he has become one of the most famous – and successful – dyslexics in the world. From using comic books to help him pass English literature classes to heading up the largest discount brokerage in the U.S., Schwab’s current fortune of $5.5 billion ranks him as the 57th richest person in the country.

Charles Robert Schwab, Jr. was born on July 29, 1937 in Sacramento, California. His childhood was a difficult one, with his small-town lawyer father constantly turning family dinner conversations into talks about “how limited resources were.” As a result, Schwab was put to work early on. “I did as much as I could: raising chickens, pushing an ice-cream cart, bagging walnuts, driving a tractor on a beet farm, working on the railroad,” he says. “I think this eclectic career helped me a lot in life.”

Schwab went to school in Woodland, where he quickly discovered he had a problem. He could not read or understand English as well as the rest of the students. Knowing little about dyslexia at the time, Schwab’s teachers simply thought he was a slow student. He did not tell anyone about his problem for years to come, but he knew he would have to work hard to overcome it. He turned to the Classic Comic Book versions of the likes of “Ivanhoe” and “A Tale of Two Cities” to help him through his reading assignments.

“I bluffed my way through much of it, I’m sure,” says Schwab. “Fortunately, I have a pretty ‘up’ personality, and that helped me all the way through. I tried hard and I had pretty good communication skills, so I could persuade my teachers that I was a pretty good kid.”

After graduating from high school in 1959, Schwab was accepted into Stanford University, thanks in large part to his high grades in economics and his strong golf game. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA. All the while, however, he continued to suffer from dyslexia. As a freshman, Schwab admits to having been “completely buried,” and he failed both French and English. “To sit down with a blank piece of paper and write was the most traumatic thing that had ever faced me in life,” he says. “I had ideas in my head, but I could not get the stuff down. It was a crushing time.”

As a result, Schwab finally turned to economics; numbers were the one thing he could understand. “I never perceived of myself as stupid; I can’t explain why,” he says. “I just thought that if I worked harder, maybe something would happen.”

After receiving his MBA, Schwab became a mutual fund manager and excelled. But a few years in, he was craving for more. In 1963, Schwab launched Investment Indicator with two other partners. It was an investment advisory newsletter that quickly grew to have over 3,000 subscribers. At a cost of $84 per annual subscription, Schwab was making a handsome income on the side. But still, he wanted more.

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