Webcast: Buffett shares his investment philosophy with students

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Yesterday afternoon, 90 MBA students gathered at IMD Business School in Lausanne to discuss “The Oracle of Omaha Meets the Visionaries of Galilee”, a case study that focuses on how the Israeli family business ISCAR became a part of the Berkshire Hathaway dynasty.

MBA Programme Director Benoît Leleux began by asking the two guests, Warren Buffett and ISCAR Chairman Eitan Wertheimer, about ISCAR’s growth into a global enterprise and their decision to look to Berkshire Hathaway for a long-term solution to maintaining its future.

“The culture of ISCAR was set by my father,” said Mr Wertheimer. “Starting with the basics: respect people, ask real questions and know what you want. Over time the business grew and became more complex. We wanted family members to have an option to join rather than feel an obligation, while also maintaining our commitment to employees and customers. We heard of Berkshire Hathaway, investigated the company and knew we had found a match. I told Mr Buffett that I would either sell to him or to no-one.”

Warren Buffett explained how a 1¼ page letter was enough to convince him to open up investments outside the US by making a deal with ISCAR. “I usually know within five minutes if I’m going to make a deal. The letter gave the basic facts and told me something about the person who ran it – I could see in my mind a man with a passion for his business.”

Passion was a key theme that ran through the ongoing discussions as the IMD MBAs eagerly took up the challenge of adding their own questions. The answers that followed revealed a man who has maintained his philosophy even as he has evolved to being the richest man in the world. Mr Buffett described his approach to selecting investments and assessing people, his management style and the strong culture of his company, his belief in applauding people’s achievements, and his definition of success. He interspersed the advice he shared with the MBAs with frequent one-liners that underlined a down-to-earth humor that seems to match his approach to business and life.

“I don’t have a master plan. I started in 1965 and went to the office each day and did what I like doing: I designed a business that fit me and that I thought would work. I allocated capital as it came in and seized opportunities … Every day is exciting … It’s an unfinished painting that keeps developing … I would get bored doing the same thing each day … I know my limitations and I know how to spot successful businesses.”

Please click here for the webcast.

Source: IMD, May 20, 2008.

PS: A transcription of most of the discussion has just been published by Den of the Lion Investor. Thank you for this splendid contribution to financial blogging!


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