17 July 2019

The Secrets of Berkshire's Success

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Nearly 250 investors converge on Los Angeles this past week to hear Charles T. Munger — Warren Buffett's right-hand man—address the annual meeting of a tiny legal-publishing and software company. Since 1977,  Mr.  Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has been the chairman of a little-known firm called Daily Journal. His public appearances are so rare and his remarks so entertaining and illuminating that investors came from as far away as Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Ontario to hear him speak.

Mr. Munger talked almost nonstop for two hours, lambasting the financial industry, hailing the economic potential of China and, above all, dispensing common-sense advice that anyone can benefit from. His central message: Investors can reach their fullest potential only by thinking for themselves.

He regards 3G Capital, the Brazilian firm with which Berkshire took over H.J. Heinz last year and which is seeking to merge Burger King Worldwide with Tim Hortons  of Canada, as "probably the best in the world" at making "companies function better at lower cost."

Fifty years ago next year, Mr. Buffett took control at Berkshire. For that anniversary, Mr. Buffett is asking Mr. Munger to answer two questions: "Why did it work? And will it continue?"

First, he said, other companies like GE long had a history of moving [division leaders] around internally, and that's like asking an oboe player in the symphony to perform on the piano and expecting the quality of the music not to suffer. At Berkshire, great managers stay put.

Second, he stated that people chronically misappraise the limits of their own knowledge; that's one of the most basic parts of human nature. Knowing the edge of your circle of competence is one of the most difficult things for a human being to do. Knowing what you don't know is much more useful in life and business than being brilliant.

Mr. Munger had mentioned during the annual meeting that some $120,000, apparently from a retirement-account distribution, had "floated" into his account earlier in the week. He says he sees nothing worth investing it in right now and hasn't bought an investment in his personal accounts in at least two years. He is waiting for an irresistible bargain.

According to Mr. Munger, successful investing requires crazy combination of gumption and patience, and then being ready to pounce when the opportunity presents itself, because in this world opportunities just don't last very long. Mr. Munger showed that in March 2009, when he bought 1.6 million shares of Wells Fargo for Daily Journal at an average cost he estimates at $8.58 per share. The stock was trading at around $51.50 this week.

Mr. Munger said after speaking to investors for two hours nonstop, then presiding over a board meeting that ran for at least three hours after that. Men half his age would have been ready for a nap, but he shows no signs of slowing down.

Click here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal.
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