MUNSTER | The high school yearbook photos show a brightly smiling teen who was active in science club and chess club, and who worked on the stage crews of numerous school plays.
The shaggy-haired kid from Munster went to the University of Chicago, where he earned his bachelor's and master's of business administration. He also started showing his entrepreneurial streak, undertaking ventures such as selling pop out of his dorm room and operating his own Christmas tree lot on Hohman Avenue in Hammond.
Joseph Mansueto said two weeks ago at a business writers conference in Chicago the Christmas tree lot and theatrical productions taught him how to assemble resources in a way that met a need, preparing him for a career in business.
And what a career it has been.
Mansueto went on to become one of the most important figures in the investment research business, founding Morningstar, which revolutionized the way people buy mutual funds with its straightforward star rating system.
His company, which now manages $170 billion in assets all over the world, has touched almost everyone who has a retirement account, since its data is widely shared throughout the financial services industry.
"I enjoy what I do," Mansueto said after his speech to the Society of American Business Writers and Editors conference at the Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile. "I have a passion for building a great company, for helping investors. To me, this is something I enjoy. I work with a great group of people. We're having fun, and we're going to continue doing it."
He founded Morningstar in his Chicago apartment with $80,000. Last year, the company pulled in $760.1 million in gross revenue from a wide array of services, including software for financial advisers and original research for institutional investors.
Mansueto had a journalistic instinct to share information that wasn't publicly available, and foresaw a need for information about the mutual fund business when it was little more than a glimmer in the eye of most money managers, Reuters Bureau Chief David Greising said.
"He had the idea of doing analysis of mutual funds," Greising said. "Until he started Morningstar, there was no way for investors to assess them other than to get prospectuses in the mail.
"At the time he founded the company in 1984, there were 1,200 mutual funds with about $370 billion in assets under management. Morningstar has by and large tracked the growth of the mutual fund industry, which today is a $15-trillion-assets-under-management business."
Morningstar grew organically for the first 20 years, but has acquired a spate of smaller companies over the past decade to add capabilities such as software, equity databases and financial data workstations.
The firm has built up a good reputation with investors and is attacking large problems, but is still a relatively small player in the large global market for investment information services, Mansueto said.
"We think we're just getting going, even though we've been around for 31 years," he said. "We've got a well-known brand, a lot of trust among investors and wonderful assets in terms of databases and analytics."
Dubbed the "quiet billionaire" by Chicago Magazine, Mansueto has amassed an estimated $2.2 billion, making the lifelong Chicagoland resident one of the 300 wealthiest people in the United States, according to Forbes Magazine.
He's given back. Mansueto was the only Chicago CEO to take up Warren Buffett's challenge of donating half his wealth to charity on his death. In 2008, he and his wife, Rika, contributed $25 million to the construction of the modernistic glass-domed library on the University of Chicago campus that bears their names.
Munster native also gives back
The son of an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor who had an office on Ridge Road hasn't forgotten his region roots, either.
Mansueto recently pledged $1 million to fund a Teacher of Merit Award, which will allow Munster to retain good teachers with performance-based bonuses at a time when the state funding formula hampers the school district's ability to give raises.
"I had a great education at Munster," he said. "They came to me and said funding had been cut and they thought they might run into trouble retaining excellent teachers. They wanted to create some funding to retain and attract the very best teachers. And so, I really wanted to see the education quality that I experienced at Munster High School continue for others.
"You remember your high school teachers. And I had a lot of great high school teachers. Many of the teachers there were very influential in developing me into a person I eventually became."
Mansueto has had a similar philosophy for retaining top performers while running his investment research firm, which employs about 3,700 people in 27 countries.
"We're big believers in trying to attract and retain the best talent," he said.
"We provide financial incentives to do that. That can be helpful. At Munster, where the school funding was cut due to some odd state formula, it's very unfortunate, so hopefully this is a way to close that gap."
Munster School Board member John Friend, who was athletic director while Mansueto was a student, and former board member Mary York, who was his English teacher, were the ones who approached Mansueto to ask for help.
Mansueto sang the praises of the school system, and recognized the importance of good teaching staff to maintain its quality, York said.
"In the time John and I spent with him, he listened carefully and attentively," York said. "His rise to success was not an accident. He's a very intelligent man who listens to the world around him."
Mansueto graduated from Munster High School in the class of 1974, which had other notable graduates including Hasse Construction owner Bill Hasse, Barnes & Thornburg Managing Partner Robert Grand and late Times columnist Mark Kiesling.
Hasse said he didn't know Mansueto that well in high school, because Mansueto ran with the drama crowd, while he was more into sports.
"He's a guy you wish you knew ... He's been very good to the town of Munster," Hasse said. "He must have had a good experience, because he hasn't forgotten his roots."
Even after he became a multi-billionaire, Mansueto returned often to Northwest Indiana, coming to have brunch or lunch with his late father every Sunday, Friend said.
The family lived in Calumet City when Mansueto was very young. Later, they moved to a home in Munster just a few blocks from the high school.
"He remembered every teacher he had 40 years ago," Friend said. "He's a bright guy. His father was a smart man who pulled himself up by the bootstraps."
His son inherited that intelligence and ability to overcome obstacles.
"He's got great business acumen, that goes without saying," Friend said. "But he's still a modest guy with a low key style who takes his kids on bicycle rides on the lakefront. He had wealth, but he doesn't seem to flaunt it."