Besides John Legend (!), there are few people who I hold in super high regard for their unique business insight and integrity.
Warren Buffett is one of those people.
Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder’s meeting in Omaha, and listened to 6 hours of commentary from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
There were so many astounding things about the experience, the first being that this meeting is hosted in a gigantic stadium, with close to 20,000 people in attendance. In addition to average folks like me, there were icons like Bill Gates sitting in the audience, hanging onto every word uttered on stage.
Choosing the right partner matters
The biggest lesson I took from the day, besides a few investing tips, had to do with the quality of partnership between Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
First: Warren is 87 and Charlie is 94. For 6 hours (with just a one hour lunch break), they fielded questions from the press and audience. Some questions were quite complex, requiring detailed knowledge of individual trades, sales or transactions.
In just about every case, without skipping a beat, Warren would answer, pause, ask “Charlie?” and Charlie would deliver the most succinct, insightful and often hilarious answer.
Warren and Charlie operated with the same aplomb as two veteran tap dancers. They glided effortlessly, never bumped into each other, and had a warm, friendly and respectful banter.
Here are the specific partner qualities I witnessed between the two:
Each demonstrated true affection and respect for the viewpoints of the other. It was clear they had spent many hours in conversation, and enjoyed listening to each other. At one point, Warren said “Charlie has been a great mentor to me.” It was a tender moment, realizing that most people consider Warren a wise elder himself.
Each partner provided unique insight and perspective into the problem or question. When one didn’t have anything to add, they didn’t add anything. This was refreshing.
Process and Ethics:
It was very clear that the guiding principles in their business success were a very clear sense of process and ethics. When answering questions about investing decisions, a common answer was “This is what we do” or “This did not fit with the way we do things.” The process superseded taking advantage of some big opportunities. They seemed at peace with decisions that had cost them millions, even billions of dollars.
“What we do” implies clear decisions about approach, methods and ethics. This made it easy to define a unified approach to the partnership.
I had no idea that a shareholder conference could be so hilarious. Charlie has the driest humor ever. Evidenced below:
On not investing in Google:
“We were not ideally located to be high-tech wizards. How many people of our age quickly mastered Google? I’ve been to Google headquarters. It looked to me like a kindergarten.”
On hostile takeover bids, and why Berkshire Hathaway won’t make them:
“I don’t envy these people that are in these unfriendly uproars all the time. Imagine doing that after you were already rich. It’s insane.”
“Shareholders have one thing to be thankful for: Some of the age-related stupidity at headquarters has been ameliorated by Ted [Weschler] and Todd [Combs] joining us. We are looking at the world with the aid of some younger eyes now. And they’ve had a contribution, beyond their own investments. And so you’re very lucky to have them as shareholders because there’s a lot of ignorance in the older generation that needs removal.”
(Read the full list here: http://fortune.com/2018/05/07/berkshire-hathaway-buffett-charlie-munger-quotes/)
How do you choose your own partners wisely?
We all aspire to a partnership like Warren and Charlie.
While some part of the process is luck, a lot is due to preparation.
One of the challenge of choosing great partners is that people can appear to be a perfect fit on paper, but can behave quite differently in person.
For this reason, there are two important areas of discovery when looking for ideal partners: Set Skills and Observed Behavior.
What information, skills, strengths or experience do they bring? How does this balance your information, strengths, skills or experience?
What are their values? How to they mesh or conflict with the values that guide your business, and your life?
What are their personality profiles (you can look at Meyers-Briggs, Kolbe, StrengthsFinder DiSC, etc.)
What kind of work ethic do they have? How do they describe their commitment to getting work done in a timely manner?
- What have others said about working with them?
- How do they carry themselves in person and online?
- What do they value, based on their observed behavior?
- How do they handle stress, mistakes and challenges?
- What is their relationship with their friends, family and neighbors?
Great partners can make a huge difference in your ability to create great work, support your clients and scale your business.
They have added richness, dimension, critical analysis and depth to my body of work. They are now dear lifelong friends.
Choose your partners wisely, go slow and build on a foundation of respect.
You may just end up with billions of dollars and a glorious friendship like Warren and Charlie (we can dream!).
How have partners enhanced your life?