Investor’s Business Daily founder William O’Neil is a legendary investor and one of the true great American success stories. His entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic led him to develop his own unique method of stock picking and launch his own companies, which have helped millions of investors improve their portfolio performance.
His groundbreaking work analyzing winning stocks and the development of the CAN SLIM system have been recognized by his peers throughout the financial industry. Among his many accolades, O’Neil most recently was named the recipient of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award as part of Benzinga’s sixth annual Global Fintech Awards.
Through multiple bestselling books, IBD products, seminars, workshops and other achievements, O’Neil has created an enduring and expanding legacy built around educating and empowering investors.
William O’Neil: The Early Years
Before he became a successful investor, young William O’Neil helped support his family by delivering newspapers in the Dust Bowl days of Oklahoma. (O’Neil Family)
William J. O’Neil’s story begins in the southern plains of Oklahoma where he was born in 1933. O’Neil’s childhood was shaped by the economic hardships of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. These formative experiences instilled in him a strong sense of work ethic and the importance of financial savings.
He attended Southern Methodist University and graduated with a degree in business in 1955. After finishing college, William O’Neil joined the Air Force and made his first stock purchase, buying several shares of Procter & Gamble. His continued fascination with business and stocks cemented him on his career path to becoming a stockbroker.
Legendary Investor Gets His Start Out West
A contrarian by nature, O’Neil was never one to focus on Wall Street rumors or hype. He bucked convention and began his brokerage career in California. He joined Hayden, Stone and Company in Los Angeles in 1958.
“I wanted to come to L.A. because I thought that’s where a lot of the future would be,” said O’Neil of his decision to head to the West Coast rather than New York.
As a young broker, O’Neil drew insights from the work of traders such as Jesse Livermore, Gerald Loeb and Nicolas Darvas.
But one of the most influential figures in William O’Neil’s early career was mutual fund pioneer Jack Dreyfus. The Dreyfus Fund was one of the best performing portfolios at the time. O’Neil decided to take a closer look at its success.
“Naturally I’m curious — what the heck is he doing that others aren’t doing?” O’Neil said of Dreyfus and his investing success. He conducted research and confirmed the importance of integrating charts and technical analysis into evaluating stock performance.
Taking cues from Dreyfus, O’Neil pioneered a more objective way to invest in stocks — using computers and a database.
“He really had a great way of blending quantitative work with human intuition and observation,” said William O’Neil + Co. CEO Steven Birch of the legendary investor’s unique ability to find winning stocks. “His brilliance was in his narrow focus.”
Early Success Picking Top Stocks
Early in his investing career, William O’Neil, (middle, pointing to chart) discovered the importance of focusing on stock chart analysis and company fundamentals. (William O’Neil + Co.)
O’Neil’s data-driven focus and natural ability for finding great stocks led to success early on in his career. He had several back-to-back winners, starting with Chrysler in 1962. Then came a short play in discount department store Korvette. A year later, he managed one of his biggest trades with Syntex, one of the early producers of the birth control pill.
In a little over a year, he was able to turn $5,000 worth of investments into more than $200,000 of profits.
“What really set Bill apart was his ability to set aside his emotions, and really just focus on the stock action and the data,” said Charles Harris, a portfolio manager at O’Neil Capital Management.
From these early successes, O’Neil was able to start his own firm — William O’Neil + Co. — in 1963. Next, he launched a mutual fund. After only two years, the O’Neil Fund became the top-performing fund in the country.
O’Neil Shares His Investing Methodology
In 1964, O’Neil became the youngest person to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange at the age of 30. He then set out to create a series of research products aimed at the institutional investor.
Surprisingly, O’Neil didn’t want to keep his unique approach to stock analysis a secret. Instead, he wanted to share his knowledge with the broader investing community.
“The first product I created was a chart that not only has all the price and volume, but it has all the fundamentals, the sales, their earnings, the return on equity,” O’Neil said in an interview celebrating the 50th anniversary of William O’Neil + Co. in 2013.
“I put it all in one place where you could look at one and see all these variables. And nobody else had done it that way.”
William O’Neil And The CAN SLIM System
In the early 1960s, O’Neil furthered his study of what made stocks successful. He zeroed in on both technical and fundamental factors.
“Bill really merged the two because he saw value to both,” said Justin Nielsen, market research director at IBD. “He looked at the fundamental analysis as something that was essential for picking good companies. But he looked at the technical analysis as something that allowed the right timing to get into those stocks.”
O’Neil found seven common characteristics shared by the best stocks before they soared. Today, those traits form the foundation of the CAN SLIM Investing System. This method provides investors a blueprint for identifying the best stocks to buy and watch.
Building on the principles of CAN SLIM and data science, O’Neil in 1972 launched Daily Graphs, which was the precursor to the MarketSmith charting platform. He then set out across the country to teach his method to a growing number of individual investors.
“His work ethic was 100 percent,” said W. Scott O’Neil, son of William O’Neil and CEO of Data Analysis Inc. “He was fully engaged with his companies and the stock market.”
Investor’s Business Daily: A Tool For The Individual Investor
The creation of Investor’s Business Daily furthered investor William O’Neil’s mission to help everyday people make more money in the stock market. (William O’Neil + Co.)
O’Neil in 1984 started Investor’s Daily, which later became Investor’s Business Daily. It was the first national business newspaper to compete successfully with The Wall Street Journal. IBD’s mission was — and is — to fill the information gap that existed for the individual investor and business community.
Today, Investor’s Business Daily has evolved beyond its roots as a newspaper. IBD’s research tools include trade ideas, proprietary stock lists and charts that can be found on Investors.com, Leaderboard, SwingTrader and MarketSmith.
And still IBD’s focus remains on education, with the aim of helping investors of all levels become smarter in the stock market and make consistent profits.
William O’Neil’s Lasting Legacy
O’Neil’s dedication to providing investor education was furthered with his book “How to Make Money In Stocks” in 1988. It quickly became a bestseller and, with its multiple editions, has sold more than 4 million copies since its publication.
“I think, deep down, he wanted to share because he started in such a modest environment with modest means and he built it himself,” said W. Scott O’Neil of his father’s work ethic. “I think he just wanted to see everyone better themselves if they wanted to do the work.”
Since 1963, the O’Neil family of companies has grown into a global brand with more than a dozen entities across three continents. Each of these is embedded with O’Neil’s sense of discipline and his passion for data-driven results. That focus on data was, after all, the foundation of his stock-picking prowess.
“He is one of the only traders who has survived decades and decades of the ups and downs of the market,” said Harris.
“He’s living proof of the incredible success that you can have investing in the market if you’re disciplined and have a sound system.”
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