Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Success Book Reviews: Warren Buffett and "The Snowball", Part 2

This is part 2 of a “review” of Alice Schroeder’s remarkable biography of Warren Buffett, "The Snowball”. Part 1 is here. I put the term “review” in quotes because what I have bee trying to do on this blog is abstract the qualities that generate personal success and achievement, whether from biographies, websites, etc. As such, I tend to look at the material I am reviewing with a view towards gaining a glimpse at the successful practices of our highest achievers, and, if possible, cross-referencing these characteristics with those of other achievers I have discussed on this blog.

Here are a few of the success secrets that Buffett seems to have practiced, some of which appear in the biographies of other successful people

Buffett Secret # 1: Go to New York

What? What kind of Success Secret is that??? Actually, Woody Allen got it half right. He said “The Secret of Success is Just Showing Up”. What he might have added is “ Just Showing Up In New York City”. Several of the outstanding successes chronicled in this blog have passed through and “caught fire” in New York City: Andy Grove, Sandy Weill, and Allen Greenspan are three of them. All four (Buffett included) had transformative experiences in Post W.W. II New York City. And they are only four of millions who “got their shot” in New York (others included me, and my father). The broader rule is phrased as: “Go where there is a ‘critical mass’ of knowledge or activity in your field”. Ben Stein also mentions this Success Secret in his beautifully written “How Successful People Win”. You grow corn in Iowa and make chips in Silicon Valley NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. We view Warren Buffett as basically a Nebraskan. Thanks to Schroeder, we see…not so. Besides his formative experiences studying and working for Value Investing dean Benjamin Graham, Buffett traveled to New York countless times on business for decades. Often times he did it “on the cheap”, rooming with relatives or friends, or in inexpensive hotels. But Go he did.

Buffett Secret #2: Go Wherever You need to go to do business or gain knowledge

Knowledge is often not nearby nor easily obtained. Buffett went far into the countryside to many a rural business to assess its value prospects. In his early years he also managed to track down other businessmen who were already assembling collections of businesses, as he wished to do, and sit down with them for talks. Always, always he would ask questions, and, because he schooled himself in interpersonal skills, he got the answers he needed to make buy/sell decisions. I was struck by what, at least to me, seemed to be a key difference between Buffet and another Titan, Alan Greenspan, who seemed to spend more time in the New York/Washington corridor. One difference between he men, it seemed to me, was that Buffett had “ownership money” on the line. He was actually buying things, as opposed to Greenspan’s early career, as a consultant. Buffett needed to examine each prospective business purchase as with a jeweler’s loupe. The tiniest asterisk in a corporate report might mean an hours long interrogating of target management. As such, Buffet had to be “present” in intellect and in physically Being There. Greenspan, on the other hand, was gifted with a broad, big-idea view, and thus tasked himself with assembling masses of smaller details into a larger tapestry, initially for his consulting clients, later for the Federal Reserve.

The key point is, “getting from, here to there” requires an enormous expenditure of energy. A bias for activity, and enough assertiveness to get the data, confront (or cajole) when (absolutely) necessary. You can’t do it from behind a desk, and, usually, not (solely) in your own backyard.

More Success Secrets of Buffett’s “Snowball” in upcoming posts.

- - - Visit the Success Books Store - - -

No comments: