BRK 2015: On Character

We are home from Omaha.  I have all sorts of things to distill and discuss over the coming days about our trip to see The Oracle, but I thought that this story would be the best way to start.

While most of the questions from the annual meeting revolved around subsidiary performance, taxes, and regulation,  there were two questions that elicited a response from Warren about character.

The first was a question about the investment tactics and strategy of Todd Combs.  Or maybe it was Ted Weschler?  I didn’t really take notes on that part and I routinely confuse the two because in my day-to-day life, it really does not matter who is who.  They are Berkshire’s investment managers and that is that.  Regardless, when Warren answered the question, he made a point to talk speak of Todd AND Ted and not one or the other.  Moreover, he didn’t really speak of their professional skills other than that they were hard workers.  What he did speak of was their character and who they are as people.

Shortly thereafter, an American 7th grader asked Warren and Charlie for tips on how to make friends and be well-liked. We have all been through the hell that is middle school, and so here is where the world of finance and 7th grade collide in a way that is so interesting.

Where Todd and Ted were concerned, Warren described them as being people who do more than their fair share of work.  He said they did not take credit for work they did not do.  He highlighted how important trustworthiness was and how he could never hire someone he did not trust.

To the 7th grader, he advised him to select the traits he admired and disliked in his peers, and from there, to cultivate the admirable qualities in himself.  As Warren illustrated an example of this in practice, the admirable traits he shared were: generous, takes things with good humor, does not take credit for work they did not do.

No one goes to the annual shareholders meeting for the sake of self-improvement, but I think it is so interesting that from a true values perspective, our takeaways are as follows:

  • Work hard – do more than your fair share of the work.
  • Be trustworthy.
  • Do not take credit for work you do not do.
  • Be generous.
  • Take things with good humor.

Personally and professionally, that’s a pretty good roadmap for life.

Edited to update: I just discovered in my notes that there was also a discussion of the importance of reputation.  I have no idea what question this stemmed from, but Charlie Munger said that your reputation is built slowly and that you have to get the best one you can with the years allotted.  He also said that nothing is more important than behaving well as you go through life.  Those are words to live by.

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