Warren Buffet Speech to Florida Graduates

Another great talk, this time by Mr. Buffet. I have highlighted one of my favourite passages below.

Your Future

I would like to talk for just one minute to the students about your future when you leave here. Because you will learn a tremendous amount about investments, you all have the ability to do well; you all have the IQ to do well. You all have the energy and initiative to do well or you wouldn’t be here. Most of you will succeed in meeting your aspirations.

But in determining whether you succeed there is more to it than intellect and energy. I would like to talk just a second about that. In fact, there was a guy, Pete Kiewit in Omaha, who used to say, he looked for three things in hiring people: integrity, intelligence and energy. And he said if the person did not have the first two, the later two would kill him, because if they don’t have integrity, you want them dumb and lazy.

We want to talk about the first two because we know you have the last two. You are all second-year MBA students, so you have gotten to know your classmates. Think for a moment that I granted you the right–you can buy 10% of one of your classmate’s earnings for the rest of their lifetime. You can’t pick someone with a rich father; you have to pick someone who is going to do it on his or her own merit. And I gave you an hour to think about it.

Will you give them an IQ test and pick the one with the highest IQ? I doubt it. Will you pick the one with the best grades? The most energetic? You will start looking for qualitative factors, in addition to (the quantitative) because everyone has enough brains and energy. You would probably pick the one you responded the best to, the one who has the leadership qualities, the one who is able to get other people to carry out their interests. That would be the person who is generous, honest and who gave credit to other people for their own ideas. All types of qualities. Whomever you admire the most in the class. Then I would throw in a hooker. In addition to this person you had to go short one of your classmates.

That is more fun. Who do I want to go short? You wouldn’t pick the person with the lowest IQ, you would think about the person who turned you off, the person who is egotistical, who is greedy, who cuts corners, who is slightly dishonest.

As you look at those qualities on the left and right hand side, there is one interesting thing about them, it is not the ability to throw a football 60 yards, it is not the ability the run the 100 yard dash in 9.3 seconds, it is not being the best looking person in the class, they are all qualities that if you really want to have the ones on the left hand side, you can have them.

They are qualities of behavior, temperament, character that are achievable, they are not forbidden to anybody in this group. And if you look at the qualities on the right hand side the ones that turn you off in other people, there is not a quality there that you have to have. You can get rid of it. You can get rid of it a lot easier at your age than at my age, because most behaviors are habitual. The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.

There is no question about it. I see people with these self-destructive behavior patterns at my age or even twenty years younger and they really are entrapped by them. They go around and do things that turn off other people right and left. They don’t need to be that way but by a certain point they get so they can hardly change it. But at your age you can have any habits, any patterns of behavior that you wish. It is simply a question of which you decide.

If you did this… Ben Graham looked around at the people he admired and Ben Franklin did this before him. Ben Graham did this in his low teens and he looked around at the people he admired and he said, “I want to be admired, so why don’t I behave like them?”. And he found out that there was nothing impossible about behaving like them. Similarly he did the same thing on the reverse side in terms of getting rid of those qualities. I would suggest is that if you write those qualities down and think about them a while and make them habitual, you will be the one you want to buy 10% of when you are all through. And the beauty of it is that you already own 100% of yourself and you are stuck with it. So you might as well be that person, that somebody else.

Question: What makes a company something that you like?

Buffett: I like businesses that I can understand. Let’s start with that.  That narrows it down by 90%.  There are all types of things I don’t understand, but fortunately, there is enough I do understand. You have this big wide world out there and almost every company is publicly owned. So you have all American business practically available to you.  So it makes sense to go with things you can understand.  I can understand this, anyone can understand this (Buffett holds up a bottle of Coca- Cola).  Since 1886, it is a simple business, but it is not an easy business—I don’t want an easy business for competitors.  I want a business with a moat around it.  I want a very valuable castle in the middle and then I want the Duke who is in charge of that castle to be very honest and hard working and able. Then I want a moat around that castle.  The moat can be various things: The moat around our auto insurance business, Geico, is low cost.

So I want a simple business, easy to understand, great economics now, honest and able management, and then I can see about in a general way where they will be ten (10) years from now.  If I can’t see where they will be ten years from now, I don’t want to buy it. Basically, I don’t want to buy any stock where if they close the NYSE tomorrow for five years, I won’t be happy owning it.  I buy a farm and I don’t get a quote on it for five years and I am happy if the farm does OK.  I buy an apartment house and don’t get a quote on it for five years, I am happy if the apartment house produces the returns that I expect. People buy a stock and they look at the price next morning and they decide to see if they are doing well or not doing well.  It is crazy.  They are buying a piece of the business.  That is what Graham—the most fundamental part of what he taught me.

Question: Why do large caps outperform small caps (1998)?

Buffett: We don’t care if a company is large cap, small cap, middle cap, micro cap.  It doesn’t make any difference.  The only questions that matter to us:

• Do we understand the business?

• Do we like the people running it?

• And does it sell for a price that is attractive?

Advertisements

~ by eboro on April 29, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: