Getting going with WSJ’s Jonathan Clements

Justin Runquist

Take the gray details of personal finance and put a unique and colorful spin on them.

This is the everyday job of Jonathan Clements. In his regular columns in The Wall Street Journal, he delves into trends and concepts in a way that is fascinating, even to a philosophy major.

His “Getting Going” column sparks enough interest among readers that he regularly receives 500 e-mail responses to each.

Clements’ opinions are followed by average investors, by the national television and radio media and by financial institutions directly affected by the advice he provides. As a gifted columnist who writes for what is arguably the world’s most popular business newspaper, Clements’ words carry weight in the financial world.

“There’s always a tremendous amount of pressure,” Clements said. “But I love to write. I love to take the rather tedious subject of personal finance and make it sing and dance.”

Not only does Clements explore the ups and downs of personal finance, but he has also experienced some ups and downs of his own.

From Big Ben to the Big Apple

Jonathan Clements cultivated his passion for journalism during his experience with the Potomac Almanac in suburban Washington, D.C. In his 13 months there, he covered everything from sports stories to press releases and police logs.

Clements, a London native, was able to use the techniques gained from the Almanac to redesign the Cambridge University student newspaper when he became editor. He said this was a fun experience, partly because of the job’s demanding environment.

“We worked out of a nearly condemned buildings and didn’t sleep at all Thursday nights when the paper was put together before Friday morning deadlines,” Clements said. “But we’d review the papers each weekend and learn from our mistakes.”

That collegiate editorial position proved worthwhile, in combination with his economics degree, when Clements left Cambridge in 1985. During a tough period of unemployment in the United Kingdom, Clements was able to land a position as a writer and researcher for Euromoney finance magazine. He wasted no time in making himself known.

“I had three stories published in the first magazine I worked on, which was unheard of,” he said. “Here I was – in what was supposed to be the lowest form of life on the magazine – being published and receiving paid trips to the United States.”

Despite this early success, Clements was going nowhere fast. He was earning a meager after-tax income of £6,500, or $10,000 a year, and living in an empty studio apartment. He also recalls an editor who tried to intimidate him. “Things aren’t working out for you here,” the editor would say to him. Or, “You can’t write to save your life. You should work as a market analyst.”

Fortunately, he believed in his own writing skills. He also believed that he could earn more recognition and income by writing in the United States. So, after serving only 13 months at Euromoney, he packed up and left for New York City in August 1986.

The tough road ahead

The waiting game began. With no job offers and only a few contacts, young Jonathan Clements was clearly not yet a name in demand among American publishers. For about five weeks, Clements said the small Camden Courier-Post in New Jersey seemed like the only paper that might offer him a position.

The phone finally rang.

In October 1986, Clements was hired as a reporter for Forbes magazine. While he knew the publication’s good reputation could eventually open up great opportunities for him, Clements still had a tough road ahead.

“I was excited about that initial job, but being a reporter is the lowest position one could have at Forbes,” he said. “At that point, I was basically a glorified fact-checker who earned little money.”

So, he strived to prove himself early. Before long, he was promoted to staff writer and began covering mutual funds.

From Cambridge to Camden and now New York, Clements has taken on risks to create opportunities for himself. “It’s much easier to take risks when you’re younger,” he said. “Even though I didn’t have a job in New York, all I had to worry about was myself. But, without a doubt, risks have been very important.”

Life as a columnist

Now an established writer, Jonathan Clements joined The Wall Street Journal in January 1990.

His big break came in October 1994, when the Journal entertained the possibility of having him write as a columnist. The rest is history.

By age 31, Clements had become a front-page columnist for one of the world’s most reputable papers. And this new position gave him plenty of new privileges and freedoms: over choices of topics to write about, over his unique writing style and over his opinions, which would soon shake up Wall Street.

What does Clements consider to be the best aspects of his job? “I love to write, I love having lots of freedom and I love getting feedback from readers,” he said. “The downside is that, as a columnist, you can’t just rely on the facts. You have to not only understand the issues involved, but add fresh insights to them. I also put added pressure on myself, considering I hold tremendously high standards for my columns.”

Clements takes great satisfaction in knowing that his advice can help his readers achieve financial stability. “My column is intended to be educational,” he said. “I don’t have all the market insight. Nobody does. But I can help people make intelligent investment decisions over time.”

The columnist’s passion for successful personal finance also inspired him to write two books: “25 Myths You’ve Got to Avoid – If You Want to Manage Your Money Right” and “Funding Your Future: The Only Guide to Mutual Funds You’ll Ever Need.”

Three other passions define Clements’ life: his kids, his girlfriend and his love of running.

Running, just like journalism, has been a long-term passion. Even back when he was running high school track, he said he always desired to run in marathons one day. After nearly a year of training in 1996, he finished the Pittsburgh Marathon in under three hours.

Whether it’s running, spending time with his family or writing his columns, passion is what drives Jonathan Clements day in and day out. “People have to figure out what they’re passionate about,” Clements said. “You only get one shot at this.”

Mr. Clements’ columns appear once a week on the cover of Personal Journal. His other column appears in The Wall Street Journal Sunday, a special section carried in over 70 newspapers with a circulation of over 10 million.