Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder

One of the book's best features is the amount of detail it provides on many of Buffett's investments. From a bird's eye view (and from reading the existing histories as well as his letters to investors), you've heard that he bought Washington Post stock and that it turned into a multi-decade multi-bagger for Berkshire. Reality is a lot more complicated than that. Buffett created Kay Graham as an expert capital allocator and had hands-on (literally) involvement with the company. The same is true of GEICO. Buffett's greatest investments, therefore, have been those in which he has invested much more than just his capital.

About Warren Buffett:

Warren Edward Buffett (born August 30, 1930) is an American investor, businessman and
philanthropist. Nicknamed the "Oracle of Omaha" or the "Sage of Omaha," Warren Buffett
has amassed an enormous fortune from astute investments, particularly through the company
Berkshire Hathaway, of which he is the largest shareholder and CEO. With an estimated
current net worth of around US$46 billion, he is ranked by Forbes as the second-richest
person in the world, behind only Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. In June 2006, he made the
commitment to give away his fortune to charity, with 85% of it going to the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation. Buffett's donation was the largest act of charitable giving in United
States history.

Despite his immense wealth, Buffett is famous for his unpretentious and frugal lifestyle.
When he spent $6.7 million of Berkshire's funds on a corporate jet in 1989, he jokingly
named it "The Indefensible" because of his past criticisms of such purchases by other CEOs.
He continues to live in the same house in central Omaha he bought in 1958 for $31,500, in
the Dundee neighborhood (although he also owns a summer house in Laguna Beach, California).
His annual salary of $100,000 is very modest by the standards of senior executive remuneration
in other S&P 500 companies, which averaged about $9 million in 2003. Recently he revealed that
his salary is tied to the price of Berkshire Hathaway Class A stocks, joking that this was
part of the reason why he chose to never split the stock.

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