Arnold founded Century Management in 1974. He is the CEO and chairman of the CM Advisors Family of Funds Board of Trustees. Born in 1939, Arnold survived the Holocaust as one of Holland’s “hidden” Jewish children. His parents both survived Auschwitz and the family immigrated to America when he was 10. These struggles led him to an extensive study of the subconscious mind, which he believes is the key to unlocking an individual’s potential.
Arnold Van Den Berg's parents hid for two and a half years in an attic during the Holocaust. However, they developed one major problem. The problem was that they kept two small children. Arnold was two and a half years old and his brother was five and a half. It was difficult hiding with children. If Arnold's parents kept the children and were caught they would be sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, which they eventually were. At Auschwitz, they didn't keep women and children. It was a big risk if the children were caught with the parents because it usually meant the end of the parents.
Another alternative was to send the children through the German lines to get on a train to an orphanage. The only problem was you needed a German passport. But if you were Jewish you didn't have a passport. They had fake passports, but they weren't very good so it was sort of a last resort. Arnold's parents got with the Dutch underground and they worked out a plan that there would be a 19 year old girl who would bring him on the train and there would be an individual situated in front the Nazi to keep the officer busy until the whistle blew. So, that was exactly what happened. It was just the most dramatic moment when the whistle blew because the girl knew she would be okay.
"The most important thing to achieve anything in life is to be totally focused."
Years later, Arnold would ask himself why would this girl who didn't even know him risk her life to save his. How could the girl's whole family risk their lives? If caught, the 19 year old girl would have had to spend her entire life in an concentration camp. What would motivate her to do this? Later in life, he found his way to a psychiatrist. He decided to ask the psychiatrist why anyone would do that. The psychiatrist said, well the answer is very simple.
It's all about principals; these were people who had deep beliefs and their principals were more important than life. If your life is more important than your principals then you sacrifice your principals.
Arnold Van Den Berg eventually found his way to mutual funds. He was curious about why during the stock market crash in the early 1970s, some funds went down less than others. Eventually, he discovered that the funds that were down less were doing better because they focused on value investing. The secret to understanding value investing is figuring out what a business is worth just like when you buy real estate. Then you basically buy that at a "wholesale" or discounted price.
The most important thing to achieve anything in life is to be totally focused. Arnold Van Den Berg's father explained the most difficult thing in an concentration camp was when they had to go on these death marches from one camp to another. It was a 20 mile walk and you would get two slices of bread and then you would march for 24 hours. If you went on your knees, the Nazi officers would whip you and if you didn't get up then they would shoot you. His father was 5'7 and 85 pounds - all skin and bones. You really have to focus to get through all of that.
What Arnold's dad learned was how incredibly powerful the mind was when you are tested in extreme circumstances. When your life is on the line, you have to clear your mind. You couldn't think about how cold or hungry you were. You can think of nothing else but to move forward and to keep your focus. You'll realize you have strength that you don't even understand. When asked what his father could attribute that to, he said the subconscious mind. There is no way you can keep moving one leg after the other in that type of situation without extreme focus.
Five Lessons from Arnold Van Den Berg
1. Always seek the truth
2. Develop your own set of principles for which you are willing to make sacrifices
3. Be totally focused
4. By practicing your principals you will develop the faith and courage to carry on during tough times
5. Never give up
What do you do with your cash when you don't have any good value stock options?
Over the 40 years, Arnold's average cash position was 20% of his portfolio even when there was good value because there are great opportunities. Even if cash doesn't make money, it's better to hold cash then to lose money. Patience pays off. You will always find value if you are patient. You might have to wait a year and a half or two years.