WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s a gift to be living at the same time as Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. It’s a greater gift to see these two remarkable men in action. They are the greatest investors of our time. Both are billionaires but they live nonostentatious lives, Warren in Omaha, Nebraska; Charlie near Los Angeles.
Several things stand out from observing them up close. The Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual meetings typically occur at the end of April in Omaha, on the Missouri River, near the geographic middle of America. My first annual meeting was 2011. I drove from Washington, D.C., taking nearly three days to reach Omaha. Hotels were full and I stayed across the river in Iowa.
This first encounter with the unique, wonderful assemblage of Berkshire devotees was revealing. They are a disparate group — farmers, students, entrepreneurs from every U.S. state, Canada, Europe, and, increasingly, from China. Fifteen thousand or more of them crowd into the cavernous indoor arena to listen to their idols. Why do they come? The answer is, invariably, to learn.
Warren and Charlie see themselves as teachers, particularly of finance and business. How do you value a company or determine its future prospects? Their message — do your homework. Learn everything you can. Invest in yourself.
Berkshire owns dozens of companies outright, with large holdings in others like Apple and Coca-Cola. Warren and Charlie are conservative investors with no patience for cheaters. They invest for the long term.
They are also globalists and have invested in companies not just in the United States but in Europe and Asia. Warren was recently in Japan, and they are both very bullish about China. They believe it essential that the United States and China have good relations.
Warren and Charlie — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — confer with each other several times each week. In a partnership of 45 years, they say they’ve never had a fight. Warren worries that politics are becoming tribal. Charlie says you don’t have to vilify somebody to make your point. Resentment, revenge and self-pity are toxic.
They read everything they can. They suggest you surround yourself with friends who value your existence. The two nonagenarians may be internationalists, but they’re very pro-American. Warren likes to say being born in the U.S.A. is winning the ovarian lottery. America may have problems, but its best days have not yet arrived.
Their approach to investing has worked magnificently for 45 years. They’ve built Berkshire Hathaway into one of America’s biggest, most successful companies. Berkshire currently has more than $125 billion of spare cash, most safely stowed in U.S. Treasury bills.
Asked by a young investor the secret of living a productive, happy life, Warren replied, “Write your obituary and then try to live up to it.”
Still active at 92 and 99, as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of Berkshire Hathaway, neither Warren nor Charlie have plans to retire, but successors are already in place. Each has specified that the bulk of their personal wealth will be given to charity.
Barry D. Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based economics journalist and columnist, made his first pilgrimage to Omaha, Nebraska, for the storied Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual meeting in 2011. This was written for The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com.
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