Notes from meeting with Warren Buffett
Last Friday, Stanford MBAs met with Warren Buffett in Omaha and below is the notes taken. Hope you will like it:
· Keeping control of your emotions will allow you to do at least 30% better in investing
· Being in Omaha has its advantages in terms of keeping emotions under control; being removed from the crowd
· The most important skill in investing = keeping the same attitude (frame of mind) towards numbers and figures everyday you come to the office
· Look in the mirror to make decisions. You shouldn’t need to be reassured by others
· Value principles have not changed
· The two vital writings for Berkshire Hathaway continue to be the chapters on Margin of Safety and Attitude in Benjamin Graham’s “The Intelligent Investor” (Chapters 8 & 20)
· Be prepared to survive when the oxygen gets cut off from everyone else
· W.E.B. never wants to be in the position where he might have to post a lot of money tomorrow morning
· I never did anything risky in investing after I read “The Intelligent Investor”
· Value a company independently of any knowledge of current market pricing
· The only way to go wrong is leverage. 99% of the time you get richer and its great, 1% of the time you go broke
· If a company can get share of mind, it will get share of market
· Search for vital brand associations. Coca Cola = happiness. Hence Coke advertises at places that make you happy like the Olympics. Per capita Coke drinkers have increased every year except one that Buffett has owned Coke. Gillette = transition to manhood. They advertised during the World Series b/w Yankees and Reds and caught young men early so that when they became men they wanted to use Gillette products.
· Look at chewing gum. Will technology change the way people chew gum or their preferences for chewing gum? Bill Gates agrees that it will not
· You don’t see generics in beer and razor blades. It is fascinating. Find a company where generics are not able to build a niche
· Find a company that after you give them a $4 billion check (e.g., Iscar), they will continue to operate the business as if nothing has changed
· I keep three files: good, bad and too hard. There are thousands of companies out there. Focus on the good ones that aren’t too hard for you to get your arms around
· I have eight filters. Some companies bump up against the first one, others make it through all eight in a matter of hours
· Know sectors. Important figures and relative figures change by industry
· Key question: Can you figure out how much a company is worth? Example: His own analysis came up with a conservative $100 billion valuation for PetroChina but the market was valuing it at $35 billion. Thus, he bought as much as the Chinese govt would allow.
Circle of Competence and Pricing Power
· I do not know anything about operations. I get lost in factories and couldn’t even find the men’s room. Only two things that I need to know: How big is the moat? Is there untapped pricing power?
· I can beat Bobby Fisher in a lot of things, but chess is not one of them. You need to pick a game where you have an edge.
· I’m not a genius, but I’m smart in spots. Stay around those spots.
· Mirror mirror on the wall, how much should I raise the price of See’s candy this Fall?
Politics and Philanthropy
· Democracy does not solve long-term problems well. Unfortunately the policy cycle is longer than the election cycle
· We will not be able to get rid of too big to fail
· Imbalances in trade eventually create serious political tensions and problems
· Berkshire Hathaway is not responsible for determining the philanthropic goals of its shareholders
· We all live better today than Rockefeller did in his time. Economic growth brings prosperity for all. There is no reason not to pursue what you love to do. Don’t do something because you think it is what you think others expect you to do. Do what you love. The difference between how the wealthiest live and the rest of us is not really the great. We all have enough food and sleep on comfortable mattress’ and can fly around to wherever we want to be.
· We want China to be prosperous. Inequality breeds discontent. There will be a fair amount of China bashing in the coming years as politicians need a scapegoat, but I encourage you to develop your own perspective. China bashers are nuts. Ask those who are angry with China if they would rather have a China with nuclear arms that resents America’s prosperity and is mired in discontent.
· Biggest risk that we all face is nuclear war and chemical warfare. Prior to 1945, if you were a nut, your ability to inflict harm was limited. Now this has changed. Nut cases are increasing as a proportion of the population.
· If he could do it effectively, it [the prevention of proliferation of WMD] is where he would focus all his philanthropic activity but he couldn’t find an effective way to give money to that cause
· There were remarkable dislocations during the crisis. For example, auction rate securities with dramatically different yields. Harley-Davidson corporate bond yield going from 15% to ~5%
· In a crisis, it doesn’t matter how sound you are in terms of credit quality; it matters how sound people think you are
· If it were up to him, he would have a much more progressive tax rate in the U.S.; office survey showed that Buffett’s employees who made b/w $60K and $800K paid on average 34% in taxes while Buffett only paid a little over 16%, Buffett does no tax planning
· We all have the horsepower – it’s a matter of utilizing that horsepower
· Improving your skills in oral and written communication is the most important thing that you can do for yourself. It will increase the value you create by more than 50%. Buffett hangs his diploma from Carnegie public speaking course on his office wall but not his degree from Nebraska or Columbia. Without the public speaking degree he would not have had the courage to ask his wife to marry him.
· Things work out for the best. It wasn’t until Warren Buffett got rejected from HBS that he realized that Benjamin Graham and Dodd were still alive and teaching at Columbia. He wrote them a letter saying that he thought that they were dead but now that he knew they were alive he’d like to study under them. Have faith that things will work out. Think of the girls that turned you down – I once dated Miss Nebraska, who ended up going through three divorces and would have completely changed my life’s trajectory
· Don’t worry about mistakes. The one mistake that you never want to make is to pick the wrong spouse. It is expensive and not just materially so.
· The best investment bankers put themselves in your shoes. That is what Byron Trott did for Buffett and why he did about 5 deals with him. If you do things that are good for Warren, you’re going to do well.
· Own 100% of a company, so that when you look in the mirror, you can say, “My shareholders love me.”
· As a general observation, Warren Buffett was one of the nicest, warmest and most generous people that I have met. He treated all of us to Piccolo Pete’s for Chicken Parm and NY strip and Root Beer floats for desert. Afterwards he spent 1+ hours taking photos with students from Stanford, Minnesota, Indiana, Emory, Smart Women in Securities and MIT.