Hailed by some financial experts as “the father of the 401(k),” Bob Reynolds said if he’s ever had any failures, he’s never noticed.
It’s the type of outlook warranted in developing from scratch a state-of-the-art business school complex that promises to reinvent how teachers teach and students learn, in addition to transforming the West Virginia economy and Morgantown waterfront.
“I don’t get bogged down in what happened yesterday,” said Reynolds, a 1974 finance graduate and president and CEO of Putnam Investments, one of the oldest mutual fund companies in the United States. “Yesterday is history that I can’t control. But I can have a big impact on what happens today. Tomorrow is what you dream about.
“If I had any failures, I never noticed them. Sure, there are mistakes. We all make mistakes. But you take them as positive experiences. It’s worked for me.”
I don’t get bogged down in what happened yesterday. Yesterday is history that I can’t control. But I can have a big impact on what happens today. Tomorrow is what you dream about.- Bob Reynolds
And it has.
Reynolds, a Clarksburg, West Virginia native, built the industry’s biggest 401(k) business at his former employer, Fidelity Investments.
Now he and his wife, Laura, want to build a revolution in how we educate the business leaders of tomorrow.
With a $10 million gift, the couple jumpstarted the building of Reynolds Hall, which is slated to open its doors in April 2022 in the space formerly occupied by Stansbury Hall along the Monongahela River.
If I had any failures, I never noticed them. Sure, there are mistakes. We all make mistakes. But you take them as positive experiences. It’s worked for me.- Bob Reynolds
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From his high-rise office overlooking Boston’s financial district on a crisp, fall day, Reynolds delved into the “whys” and “why now” on the monumental gift.
His workspace is adorned with sports memorabilia, mostly New England Patriots trophies, autographs and photos. Putnam Investments, after all, is the official investment management sponsor of the Patriots and the Boston Celtics.
Though he has made Boston his home over the last few decades, Reynolds’ heart belongs to West Virginia and the Mountaineers. You can tell from his traits and characteristics. He exhibits a sort of Bob Huggins-like charm; he is matter-of-fact, down-to-earth and soft-spoken - not a caricature of a high-strung businessman.
The genesis of the generous gift came about 10 years ago when he began talking with folks at the College and the WVU Foundation about B&E’s vision for the future. He and his wife simply wanted to give back and play a part in innovating business and economics education.
In 2017, the couple pulled the trigger on the contribution. Reynolds credited President Gordon Gee and then-Dean Javier Reyes (who is now provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago) for sharing their vision to make a difference.
“I thought Javier was the real deal,” Reynolds said. “He was phenomenal and I liked his energy.”
“West Virginia is at a cusp,” Reynolds added, “from switching from the old economy to a new economy. It’s not too late. That’s my whole thought process behind a new business school. How do you get a state to transform itself? You do it from within. You don’t do it from the outside.”
Despite his success in the financial world, Reynolds is no outsider. He returns to West Virginia regularly for sporting events – he’s been attending Mountaineer football games since age 5 - and to visit family.
West Virginia is at a cusp from switching from the old economy to a new economy. It’s not too late. That’s my whole thought process behind a new business school. How do you get a state to transform itself? You do it from within.- Bob Reynolds
But, like one of his philosophies throughout his career, it takes a well-oiled team to make dreams realities. Success cannot rest on one person.
“Anyone who cares about the state of West Virginia and wants to see the state do better can get involved,” he said. “To me, the best and quickest way to do that is by transforming education with a business school focused on the new economy and entrepreneurship. It’s not just about making a contribution, but by getting personally involved and seeing the clay be molded. West Virginia is a great place today. But even when you’re great you can be better.”
Hard work and a hint of happenstance
Immersed in sports while growing up, Reynolds said his first dream was to become a football coach, a goal inspired by his own coaches as well as Jim Carlen, who led the WVU football team in the late-1960s.
Eventually, Reynolds would idolize someone even closer to him – his father Bill, a stalwart in the Clarksburg community. The elder Reynolds spent 35 years in the insurance industry and also served as mayor and city councilman in Clarksburg.
Reynolds caught the business bug from his dad.
But his journey to study finance at WVU almost did not happen as Reynolds hoped to pursue a similar path taken by his father, a military veteran who served in World War II and the Korean Conflict. The younger Reynolds wanted to go to West Point, the prestigious military academy in New York.
“I liked everything about West Point and what it stood for,” Reynolds said. “This was during the height of the Vietnam War.”
He applied, but someone else in the area got the principal appointment to West Point. Instead, he was offered a spot with the Air Force Academy.
Reynolds wound up in Fort Belvoir, Virginia for physical testing, but his eye remained on West Point. At Fort Belvoir, he spoke to a counselor who suggested he attend college in the meantime. He was promised the principal appointment to West Point the following year.
For college, Reynolds’ choice was a no-brainer. He chose WVU.
“I had a great first semester,” he recalled. “I loved it.”
In the January after his first semester, his father phoned him to tell him the good news. His appointment letter to West Point came.
“I told my dad, ‘We need to talk.’ I loved WVU and loved the business school and wanted to finish. He was not necessarily happy with me,” Reynolds said with a smirk.
Reynolds finished his degree and set his sights on law school, though he wanted to work and get real-world experience under his belt first. Wheeling Dollar Bank, which at the time had the largest trust department in West Virginia, took in Reynolds as a trust officer. The more he worked, the more he fell in love with it.
After two years at Wheeling Dollar Bank, Reynolds joined North Carolina National Bank (now Bank of America), which recruited him.
“I was in the money management side of the bank and we were extremely successful,” Reynolds said of his time at NCNB. “One day, the head of the trust department calls me in and tells me none of my people can travel the rest of the year. I did not understand it. We were having so much success. I walked out of his office and thought, ‘I’ve got to go somewhere where managing money is the most important thing they do.’”
An hour later, Reynolds received a call from a headhunter for Fidelity, where he would spend the next 20-plus years. If he had gotten the call a day earlier, he wouldn’t have even taken the call.
Ascent to greatness
When Reynolds joined Fidelity, the Boston-based multinational financial service, in 1984, the 401(k) already existed. It just hadn’t taken off yet.
“It was a new evolution where they went from the old pension fund to defined contribution,” Reynolds said. “The 401(k) gave investment responsibility to individuals and Fidelity had built its business on giving that responsibility to individuals.”
Fidelity owner Ned Johnson told Reynolds that he saw great opportunity in the 401(k) business and that was enough to fire up Reynolds for the task. Reynolds built his own team devoted to the 401(k) and followed a three-part concept: investment management, administrative heart and commitment to technology.
“Our goal was to be the best of all three,” he said. “If we can do that, we have a very compelling story.”
Within his 24 years at Fidelity, Reynolds made the firm king of the 401(k). It boasts $1 trillion-plus in retirement assets today.
His shift to Putnam Investments in 2008 came at a crossroads where he wanted to venture elsewhere to build from the ground up again. Putnam’s parent company, Great-West Lifeco, would shoot up into the No. 2 spot among 401(k) providers when it acquired JPMorgan Chase’s record-keeping business in 2014.
The combination of the record-keeping services of Great-West, JPMorgan Chase and Putnam would form the retirement business Empower.
“Putnam had gone through some challenges when they approached me in 2008,” he said. “And you know what happened in 2008? The market crashed. Again, I had to be optimistic. Everyone was dealt the same hand. It was about who could play it the best.
“We’re trying to make money for anyone who invests with us. It can be anyone from a grandmother to some 20-year-old saving for retirement to a nonprofit. Every day, we look to add value to that individual with investment performance. Fidelity serves 21 million with retirement and Empower has 18 million. You’re affecting a lot of lives.”
Laura and Bob
It’s not all about Bob. He doesn’t want it that way.
Step-by-step through their philanthropic efforts over the years, the spotlight has never shined solely on Bob. He has always included his better half, Laura.
“We’re in this together,” Reynolds said about his wife. “She’s been part of the West Virginia family for a quarter of a century. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Everyone who meets her – that’s what they say. She has that Midwest charm growing up in Wisconsin.”
Laura Reynolds grew up in Racine, Wisconsin and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin. For her master’s degree, she’d go to Auburn, where she made a news splash across the south for being the youngest dorm mother at an all-female dorm.
And much like her future husband, Laura Reynolds’ career trajectory benefited from hints of happenstance.
She was accepted into a doctorate program but decided to take a year off to live, work and ski in Aspen, Colorado.
Then she wound up as a stockbroker in Washington, D.C.
“Psychology didn’t end up too far out of the realm of what I was doing,” Laura Reynolds said. “The key to business success is that you listen first instead of present. You take in what someone’s really saying to you. Sometimes you have to read between the lines. The hope is that you can define what it is that they actually need and be able to address that.”
And like her future husband, Laura Reynolds kept a positive attitude through challenging times. She became a broker in the early 1980s when interest rates were at record highs and stock prices at records lows.
“My first mortgage had a 19% APR,” she recalled. “You couldn’t do anything to make it better, but I stayed with it and it did get better.”
Later, she transitioned into the institutional investment side of business as she would handle pension plans for companies and government entities.
And then she met Bob at a conference.
“He is the most optimistic man I've ever met,” she said. “He doesn’t see the glass half-full. He sees it full.”
The couple eventually got engaged – Bob proposed at the old Ritz-Carlton in Boston - and were married within three months, because as Laura put it, “Why wait?”
“He’s been a fun person to have as a partner,” she said. “I mean, I’m still crazy about him. He’s got a lot on his shoulders but he’s never the type that goes, ‘Oh, this is so hard.’ He’s more like, ‘This is going to be really fun. We’re going to get over the other side and it’s going to be worthwhile.’ And he has a great smile to go with that.”
Laura Reynolds spends much of her time nowadays involved in civic engagement and philanthropy.
The day usually starts with a four- or five-mile walk, which sets the tone, she said. Then it’s off to serving others, whether it be volunteering for museums, libraries or one of her personal favorites, the Boys and Girls Club.
She got her start when the late Myra Kraft, wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, asked her to run an annual fundraiser for the Boston Boys and Girls Club.
“I was very hesitant at first because I didn’t know how things worked in the city,” said Laura Reynolds, who lives on the outskirts of Boston with Bob.
A routine visit to the dentist changed that outlook.
“I was at the dentist thinking, ‘I’m going to tell her (Myra Kraft) I’m not ready for that big of a project right now,’” she said.
A dental hygienist remarked that she looked too dressed up for a dentist appointment.
“I told him I had an appointment over at the Boys and Girls Club, and he didn’t say anything. Three minutes later, he says, ‘I have to tell you that the Boys and Girls Club saved my life.’ He told me about losing a brother to a drug overdose and that he was headed down the same path.”
The Boys and Girls Club got the hygienist on the straight and narrow, helping him with schoolwork and introducing him to sports.
“So, I thought, ‘Well, damn it. Now I definitely have to do this,’” she said, laughing.
Laura Reynolds took the organization from making $230,000 a year on an antique show to $2 million-plus. She has since migrated over to the Nantucket Boys and Girls Club and other charitable efforts.
Beyond the finish line
As both Bob and Laura Reynolds – and the entire WVU community – anticipate the opening of Reynolds Hall, the couple believes it will only be the beginning of a legacy left behind and a dive forward for the future of business and its leaders.
The Reynolds foresee West Virginia reaping some benefits from the new College.
“It will be a gift that keeps on giving, as it shall attract more people and educate to a higher standard,” Laura Reynolds said. “I think it’s going to trickle on throughout the state and West Virginia will benefit from the high quality of people coming out of the College.
“People have the opportunity to be part of something that's truly transformative to West Virginia University. Opportunities like this might only come once every generation, if you’re lucky.”
When asked about his impressions of the building thus far, Bob Reynolds praised the openness of the space.
“The lobby is inviting, like a place you’d want to gather and meet,” he said. “I remember being in Armstrong Hall and walking up the Mountainlair to hang out. I can see people going to Reynolds Hall and not leaving the whole day.
“The fact that it will have a gym open to anyone on campus adds to the attractiveness. Plus, it makes use of the river. That waterfront is very ignored. It’s something special.”
When asked what he hopes to see at Reynolds Hall 10 years down the road, Bob Reynolds, with a gleam in his eye, does not hesitate to answer.
I still see a vibrant gathering place for a lot of talented people. I want to see people pushing the envelope to drive the state and the economy forward, setting up the road to success for many, many years to come.- Bob Reynolds