When I was in junior high school, I took a class called General Business where the teacher taught us about the marvels of capitalism and the wonders of the stock market. After I took that class, I had one goal: I wanted to own some stock in a company.
I saved my pay from high school jobs and talked to Uncle Tony, who was a stockbroker. He identified three stocks that were cheap enough that I could buy a decent number of shares, and I picked one called Vikoa, for a company that sold a product related to cable TV. I figured cable TV, which we had at our house, was likely to grow and prosper.
It was a great day when my fancy Vikoa stock certificate, made out to my Mom in my name because I was under age, arrived at the house. Vikoa’s stock was listed on one of the smaller exchanges, so every morning at breakfast I could check the listings in the Columbus Citizen-Journal to see how my investment was doing. For a time, Vikoa seemed to thrive and its stock went up — so much so that I decided that I should make another investment, this time in a new restaurant chain called Pizza Hut that had opened near our house and made pretty good thin crust pizza.
The Pizza Hut investment turned out well and earned a profit, but not so much for Vikoa. Its stock plummeted — in those pre-internet days, I never found out why — and ultimately it vanished entirely from the exchange listings. I later got another stock certificate, for some fractional interest in a different company that apparently had bought whatever was left of Vikoa, then that company also went under. My investment had failed.
I made money on one investment and lost my shirt on the other, but I was young and didn’t mind. My investing days were over until I started working after college and law school and considered how to plan for retirement — and then the teachings from General Business class and the specter of Vikoa resurfaced. I decided that rather than take a chance on a single company again, I’d just invest in mutual funds, where the fund manager picks the investments and keeps track of their performance. That’s been my practice ever since. The Vikoa lesson was one I didn’t need to learn twice.