Bridges Investment Fund

An Interview with Edson L. Bridges II, founder of Bridges Investment Counsel, Inc., Bridges Investment Fund, Inc., and Bridges Trust
By Ross Eller and Sarah Oliver, Creighton University MBA candidates

Edson Bridges II was born in Lincoln, NE in 1932. His father worked for the railroad but moved his family near Boston, MA to pursue his MBA. Mr. Bridges and his brother were enrolled in Deerfield Academy where the head master of the school, Frank Boyden, played a significant role in framing his ethical foundation. After his graduation from Deerfield, he earned his B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska and M.B.A. from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration. He went on to a faculty position at Harvard where he wrote cases on steamship lines, pipelines, and other forms of transportation. This gave him long-range planning experience that would be very helpful in his wealth management businesses. While at Harvard, Mr. Bridges and his wife made the decision that they would provide a portion of their income for Christian charities with the plan to do more each year, which they have continued to do to this day.
After working in San Francisco, Mr. Bridges wanted to move his family back to Nebraska and asked to join his father in business based on three commitments:

  1. Move to an office within the first year and get part-time help
  2. Save enough money to earn $500 a month
  3. As Christians, rely on the Lord to provide and give money to charities (giving more every year than the year before)

He agreed. Edson Bridges’ and his family moved back to Nebraska and he began his career in wealth management.

Mr. Bridges expanded the company in 1963 when he organized and launched Bridges Investment Fund, the first mutual fund in Nebraska registered under the Investment Company Act. He received his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) in 1967 and went on to serve as President of Bridges Investment Counsel, Inc. in 1970. In 1990, Mr. Bridges saw a need for an independent trust company in Omaha and in 1992 founded Provident Trust Company. He built the business on trust, service, excellence and integrity that would provide an excellent client experience and build lasting relationships for years to come. In 2017, Provident Trust was renamed Bridges Trust and continues to provide the business as Mr. Bridges intended. Mr. Bridges said he had a “nose to the grindstone” work ethic in his business and “that people came to us because they said they could trust us, because we did a good job of figuring out their goals and what they needed.” This faith-based ethics and hard work has helped the company achieve continued growth, today serving almost $1.7 billion in assets for clients in 26 states.

What do ethics mean to you? Do you think there’s a difference between “ethics” in general and “ethics” in business?

Ethics is following the verse from Matthew, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is a living experience that is always happening and you’re always adding to it. An important part of ethics is knowing how to commit yourself and to not commit to too many things. Each part of my career has ethics all through it. There is no difference between personal and business ethics, they are very much the same and ethics comes in all parts of your life. My ethics are Christian based. When my family returned from Deerfield, in 1946, my grandmother had me learn Bible verses and Psalms, the foundation of my Christian ethics.

Is there a formal ethics program at your firm? What is the ethical culture?

In business you can make more money personally if you hire a bank to do the accounting and an administrative person to tell the clients what you want to do with their accounts. It is very simple and straight forward. Instead I created a management book that explains how we were going to know what to do to help other people in a personal way. The book has a motivation and goals chapter, with a memorandum that explains what we can do to help other people with the description of services.  The standards of employee conduct are very important as they help the employees know how to conduct themselves, how to plan, and how to work, and that builds a culture of ethical employees.

The following are examples of Mr. Bridges’ Christian ethics found in his guide book.

Psalm 1 –
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Timothy 3:14-17
14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

The company culture is to care for the clients who must come first. A lot of people who manage money don’t want to be bothered with talking to their clients. It is a big mistake. The reason people stick with you is because people want a trust company to have relationships with their clients. We continue to have this culture of trust and relationships because the average tenure of our employees is 22 to 24 years, which is something other organizations want. As you grow and get more income stream, the people with 20 plus years have been raised in this culture. They do well, are very knowledgeable and they work with their young team members to continue the culture. Our clients know that we care and will continue to build long lasting relationships and that’s what they want in a company. We have clients from the 60’s who still have long relationships with us because we have given them what we promised from our company and we followed three things: a foundation for the family; my covenant with God and God has honored it; and being steadfast in the original covenant.

Was there an ethical situation in business you faced that was relatively easy to handle?

Early in my career a lady, who was a neighbor, was one of the last people to get polio. She was married to a man who liked a nice-looking wife who could be involved in all the social events. The man invited my wife and myself to meet his wife’s mother – a devout Christian. The woman came from a wealthy family and had many old investments that the neighbor asked me to work on. I worked on the portfolio for a flat fee as I wanted to help because I had a sense that something more was in his plan. Later, the husband divorced the wife and asked that I advise her and help her. I advised her to move to Santa Barbara to be close to her mother. I helped her sell her house here and buy a house in Santa Barbara. I also registered a business in California and promised I would visit her twice a year. The husband claimed he would sue me because I advised his wife to move their children so far away, but he did not do it. Two things important in ethics here: I did not set out to make money and I started a business to help someone else. This ethical decision was noticed by the mother. In 1971, the mother gave me a new opportunity to help her give away much of her money to Christian charities.

Was there an ethical situation in business you faced that was hard to handle?

Yes, there were some situations that came up. To solve the issues, I would start with the outcome that is best with the parties involved. Figure that out, then you have to figure out what the context is going to be on how the issue will be brought up in a way in which it can be solved to the mutual happiness of those involved. Find out what the solution is going to be, then come back to the setting – some of it will be in writing, some face to face. It is better to take the initiative to work on the issue before the problem gets worse.

Mr. Bridges is currently the Continuity and Research Officer for Bridges Investment Management. His son, Ted, is the President and CEO and continues to grow the company and maintain the firm’s story of faith, service, excellence and integrity. Edson Bridges remains active in the business but is also involved in his philanthropic work and serving on boards. He continues to do his daily devotions that support his ethics and beliefs that are the foundation for his life and how he started everything.