Monday, 2 November 2009

The World's Greatest Money Maker: Evan Davis meets Warren Buffett

I watched the programme where Evan Davies met Warren Buffett, which was on BBC 2 last week, with some interest. I only knew a few things about Mr Buffett, apart from the fact that he is currently the richest man in the world, is known to be eccentric and to favour a simple way of life.

Although the programme neatly set out the Warren Buffett approach to investing, the things that struck me were the following:

-His investment strategy seems to be amazingly simple, and to involve a great deal of common sense. My lay-person's summary of it is that he believes in buying a small number of stocks which he has researched thoroughly, and where he understands what the company does, and holding those stocks for a very long time. He cited 'The Intelligent Investor' by Benjamin Graham as a key book. (There were some aspects of his strategy, involving insurance companies, which seemed more complicated, however.)

-In some cases, he buys whole businesses, in which case he appears to adopt a hands-off management style, and to be full of praise for his managers; those Evan Davies spoke to seemed genuinely delighted by Mr Buffett's public expressions of his approval.

-He clearly knows who he is and is supremely confident – he came across as someone who is extremely good at what he does, and enjoys it, and doesn't need to pretend to be anyone else. He seemed modest about his peculiar talent, however, taking the view that some people are good at making money, and others are good at singing or other things.

-He is evidently a creature of habit – one of his colleagues said that he was someone who worked out what suited him and then stuck to it; that seems to apply to both working practices and to his eating habits. (He prefers to go to a particular steak house in Omaha, where he always orders the same meal.) It seemed that he had tried to simplify decision-making as much as possible, in many areas of his life.

-He knows what is important to him and what makes him happy – he said that he lived in the same modest house he has lived in for the past fifty years because he likes it and it suits him, and he could not see that he would be happier anywhere grander. 'If I thought it would make me happier, I would move'. Also, he was prepared to spend only a small amount of time with Evan Davies, because he had his order of priorities, and more important things to do in the limited time alive he had calculated he was likely to have left.

-He does not seem to need to show off – his office is in a very un-showy location, and he has a small staff, and an ordinary car. About charity donations, he said that he did not feel the need to leave his name on a foundation, saying that the ability to name buildings was a valuable asset for charities. They need not waste this on him, as he would leave his money to charity anyway.

-His children seemed to live normal lives, and to have no expectation of inheriting money from him, and to be more than happy with that. They were amused by the reaction others had to finding out who their father was.

In summary, I thought that Warren Buffett was an interesting person; Evan Davies summed it up well by saying that was sometimes exceptionally ordinary, and sometimes deeply unconventional. While I have no ambition to be the richest person in the world, or anywhere close, there were some aspects of his philosophy and approach to life from which I felt something could be learnt. I will not, however, be adopting his coca cola and steak diet, nor moving to Nebraska!

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