I just completed my read of "The Snowball – Warren Buffett and the Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder. This biography covers some 800 pages and provides a perspective on a unique individual. I must admit, he is much different than what I expected. The following is my summary of the major factors that have contributed to Mr. Buffett's incredible success and wealth:
Singular focus – Since Warren Buffett was a young boy, he had almost a singular focus to accumulate wealth. He also believed his way to wealth would be through the stock market. At a very early age, he knew what he wanted and where he wanted to go. Successful people always have long-term visions of their life. This is a lesson especially for younger folks. You will only really succeed in life once you know what you want to accomplish. As Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you are going, you may end up some place else."
Dedication - Mr. Buffett spends about 18 hours every day dedicated to investing capital. This is the type of dedication needed to succeed at his level. I doubt he wastes anytime in front of the television or shopping at the mall. Almost all his time is spent thinking and working on Berkshire Hathaway. This type of dedication can have its drawbacks as well. The book does not portray his family life in a very positive manner. He was separated from his first wife (it appears they did not divorce for P.R. reasons) and did not spend much time with his children as they grew up. There is only so much time in a day, and he spent it mostly on business-related activities.
Independent thinking – Buffett has come up with his criteria for investing in companies. These criteria have been developed over years of studying and reading about his craft. He will only invest in companies that meet these criteria. He does not feel pressured when things do not go his way nor when outside sources suggest new rules for investing. The most telling story of this was back in 1999 during the "technology stock bubble". Many people were saying he was too old and out of touch. They said he did not understand the "new economy". Buffett continued to plot his course using the rules he knew and understood. He has been vindicated as the technology market crashed and Berkshire Hathaway has continued to thrive.
Alliances – Mr. Buffett has developed partners and allies to help him attain his goals. He uses these partners to manage his businesses, help find new investments, and to obtain access to capital. Mr. Buffett will be the first to tell you that his wealth would be a small fraction of what it is today without these business associates.
Integrity – Buffett has spent a lifetime being honest and fair with his partners, business associates, and investors. This has given him the title of the most trusted man in corporate America. Being the most trusted man in corporate America benefits him in many ways. Investors are confident they will be treated fairly. Deals are be made in short order without the need for an army of attorneys, bankers, and auditors. The list of benefits goes on and on.
Long-term strategy – Early in Buffett's career, there were times in which he pursued short term money making strategies. However, as the size of his investment portfolio grew, this was not a sustainable strategy. This long-term strategy has benefited him and his investors immensely. He does not get caught up with the whims of the market and short-term prices. He merely seeks investments that can sustain a competitive advantage over the long term. A company can not control its stock price, but it can control its profits and cash flows generated from operations. As long as it supplies a steady stream of cash flows, the long term stock price will take care of itself.
Creativity – Buffett is a creative thinker. This is not a gift, but is the result of his other traits described above. His ability to see things differently is a result of his experience and dedication to business. If something works in one industry, he tries to apply the same principles to other industries.
There is no doubt that God blessed Warren Buffett with significant talents. However, his gifts and talents do not seem to be out of the ordinary. The skills described above seem to be the ones that most play out to his success. I found this very uplifting as most of the above skill sets can be learned by anyone and can be applied in almost any aspect of our lives and careers.
Please note, I do not believe that success is only defined by the size of one's wallet. But I do believe Mr. Buffett success lies in his ability to pursue and achieve his goals.
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