Wednesday, March 02, 2011

829 Some Old Guys

829 Some Old Guys

Investment king Warren Buffett is 80 years old. He’s one of the two or three richest guys in America. Which position he occupies depends on which “Richest” list you read.

He’s probably the most successful investor of our lifetime. Possibly of any lifetime. He’s built Berkshire Hathaway into the most valuable paper conglomerate in history. BRK owns huge chunks of companies whose names you know, but doesn’t manufacture much on its own.

All this gets done in the unlikely investment epicenter of Omaha, Nebraska. The company’s annual shareholder meeting is a combination of Boy Scout Jamboree and Davos.

Buffett also writes an annual letter to stockholders in which he summarizes the past year and predicts the future. The letter never fails to move markets.

But even in apparently robust health, at 80 one has to think about succession. The obvious choice would be Buffett’s “Robin” or “Tonto,” Charlie Munger. But Charlie’s 86, and that kind of cuts him out of the running.

So there are four guys on the succession list and talk that the company will split his job among two or three of them, maybe all four.

One guy on that list is a fellow named Peter Buffett, Warren’s son and co-worker. Dad wants junior to be named chairman in a reconfigured future to “preserve the corporate culture.” Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

It’s a lesson that’s lost on companies large and small. The Titans of Industry forgot about that when the Pennsylvania Railroad bought the New York Central and screwed themselves, each other and the American transportation system.

The Titans forgot that when Daimler bought Chrysler and screwed themselves, each other and much of the auto industry.

The Titans forgot that when Comcast bought a majority interest in NBC and soon will screw themselves, each other and We The Viewers.

The Titans forgot that when Sears bought Lands’ End and Kmart bought Sears. And when a giant exterminating company bought a local exterminating company which it crushed like a bug. And when “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap killed Sunbeam.

So here’s this unassuming guy, Buffett, who takes clients to lunch at Dairy Queen (which he owns,) and buys expensive suits that look cheap on him and who has made millionaires and billionaires of many while living in a house he bought for 32 grand in 1958. Maybe the old coot knows something. Like it’s not enough to be smart and good if you want to preserve it, whatever “it” happens to be.

Shrapnel (Old Guys Edition):

--Oscar broadcast was really bad, especially the somnambulistic James Franco who never looked at co-host Anne Hathway even when they were conversing. The worst mistakes were playing an old film of Bob Hope as Oscar TV host, who in his corny way made this year’s show even more wooden than it had to be and bringing out Kirk Douglas, 94 and a stroke patient. He was more interesting and watchable in his dotage than anyone else.

--Speaking of old guys, hail and farewell to Frank Buckles of Morgantown, West Virginia, last American soldier who served in WWI. Three years ago, he told interviewers that “last survivor” had to be somebody “and it was me.” Frank Buckles was 110 years and one month old.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to (assuming it actually works when you want it to.)
© WJR 2011

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