“I think culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that an institution, whether it’s an academic institution, or a governmental institution, or a church, or a corporation can have.”


Jack Brennan is the chairman of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees and also serves as chairman emeritus and senior advisor of Vanguard, one of the world’s largest investment companies.

Headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania, Vanguard currently has more than $4 trillion in assets under management. Mr. Brennan joined Vanguard in July 1982. He was elected president in 1989, served as chief executive officer from 1996 to 2008, and served as chairman of the board from 1998 to 2009.

He is a director of Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, American Express Company, and Rockefeller Capital Management; chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame; a founding trustee of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST); chairman of Vanguard Charitable; and a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission. He is past chairman of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Financial Accounting Foundation, and the Investment Company Institute.

Brennan graduated from Dartmouth College and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School. He has received honorary degrees from Curry College and Drexel University.

Brennan is married to Catharine J. Brennan, who graduated from Dartmouth College with an AB degree, and received her master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the president of College Perspectives. They have three children who are graduates of Notre Dame: William (’06), Kara (’08), and Conor (’11).

“We have no tangible assets. We got one thing and it’s the trust of our clients and the loyalty of our employees.”


Topics include:

  • How Brennan helped develop the Vanguard culture (4:21)
  • Make loyalty relevant to every employee (8:15)
  • Don’t confuse customer service and customer loyalty (10:09)
  • Leverage the power of the CEO to focus the organization (11:09)
  • What screws up good cultures? (13:07)
  • Every hire is critical, no matter the size of your company. Start with the characteristics. It’s about fit (15:24)



Jack Swarbrick
As we sit here on what the students have actually called the God Quads, the original quad on campus… Why this bench?

Jack Brennan
I’m still recovering from the “benchwarmers” series name! You spend your life and here’s where I end up, a benchwarmer! You mentioned I start the day on a campus run. I always try to stop here because it represents to me everything about Notre Dame. It’s the CSC in the Basilica, the CSC in Corby Hall. The founders, the faith basis of this institution that differentiates us, it’s our patron sun on the top. It’s the world’s best academic leadership team in the main building. It’s students in a dorm. It’s a gathering place for students. It’s research over here. And on a good winter day I think you can catch a flag on the most iconic sports facility maybe in the world. So for me, it says everything about who we are as an institution. But very importantly for me, I never stopped without saying thank you. Because to see what this place did for our kids, because of its unique culture of faith and excellence. This is the greatest gift our family ever had.

Jack Swarbrick
Well, from from the perspective of one member of the university’s leadership, you have more than repaid that gift by the time and talents you’ve given to make this place better. We are so fortunate to have you in that role. It’s great that you bring the perspective you do; you make us better. And thank you so much for joining us. I think we may have produced two episodes out of this. I could go another two hours, but thanks for being with us.

Jack Brennan
Couldn’t be better. Thank you, Jack. Really great.

“People watch how the leader behaves, where the leader spends his or her time… Does the leader walk the talk?”