Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Learning from Legends

I saw a great interview of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett at the University of Nebraska last week. I have not spent much time consuming Warren Buffett-isms over the years, but I was duly impressed with his wisdom, so while I was at it, I watched three other interviews of his with Charlie Rose. Here are some of the highlights:

Buffett On Ethics:
Imagine that what you are doing every day is being scrutinized by a smart, skeptical reporter who is going to write an article about it every day on the cover of your local paper. If you ever think you actions would embarrass you or your company in front of your family, customers, peers, etc., don't do it.

Buffett On Founders:
I only buy a business if I can buy the managers with it. It is okay if the managers love the money, but much more important is that they demonstrate a true love of what they are doing.

Gates on Reading Vacation: Gates takes two weeks per year where he sequesters himself for a "reading vacation." He takes books with him and papers/proposals written by employees from all over Microsoft. [Dharmesh and I have been talking about doing one of these for awhile, but haven't got around to it yet]

Buffett on Decisions: Asset allocation is done by me only, not by committee or vote, I make those decisions. A committee/vote would tend to bring our decisions toward the mean and make the likelihood of finding a unique opportunity lower.

Buffett & Gates on Reading:
I was surprised to hear how much they both talked about reading and how important reading was to their daily work. I read all the time and know many others that do so too, but I don't hear people talking about how important reading is in their daily lives like these guys did. When asked if Gates could be a superhero, what power he'd want to have, he said he'd like to be able to be the fastest reader in the world and Buffett agreed.

Buffett on most his important skill: Ability to focus. I thought that it was interesting to hear in light of the attention deficiency disorder going on in our culture.

Buffett on the "ovarian lottery":
Called himself lucky over-and-over again to be born in the US in this era where his natural gifts were well suited for our society. Made a comment that if born several hundred years earlier, he and Gates probably would have been some other animal's lunch because they did not see well and could not climb trees well.

Buffett on predicting success:
He quoted an interesting study he had seen that tried to correlate "things" (i.e. business school, grades, athletics, etc.) with future business success. The study found that the thing that most closely correlated with future success was the inverse of the age at which you started your first business (i.e. paper route, lemonade stand, painting co, other).

Buffett on baseball:
It turns out Buffett is a huge sports fan, especially baseball. He is an especially big fan of Ted Williams' book "The Science of Hitting" which is all about getting a pitcher in a position where he has to throw the batter a strike…He likens his investment decisions as "waiting for the right pitch."

Buffett on his schedule:
Likes to keep it open and says "no" to as many meetings as possible. Reads 80% of the workday. When he goes home at night he either keeps reading or plays bridge. Schedules online bridge games on the weekends with Gates.

Gates on his schedule:
Jam packed every day with meetings. He goes home at night to have dinner and then gets caught up on emails.

Buffett's career advice:
It's platitude, but do what you love sooner, rather than later. Don't wait your whole life to do what you love like most people do.

Buffett on life:
He advises people to make decisions based on their "inner scorecard" and pay less attention to the "outer scorecard" (i.e. what other people think). He says if you follow an outer scorecard, your life will be a little hollow when you get to be his age. …He advises people to reverse engineer their lives from what they want to be when they are 70 and map the steps needed to get there from today.

Buffett on friends:
Buffet says that "real" friends are a referendum on your life. …Buffett also seems to reject the platitudes around working with friends as it appears many of his closest friends are people who work in his business.

Buffet on investments:
His criteria are that he must fundamentally understand the business (often this means it is simple); the business must have an enduring competitive advantage; the business must have management he trusts, admires, and love what they do; and the business must be attractively priced.

After spending several hours listening to Warren Buffett over the last week, I became really impressed. I hope you enjoyed the highlights...

-- Brian Halligan.

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