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Home Investing Strategy Happy 90th Birthday, Mr Buffett!

Happy 90th Birthday, Mr Buffett!

Warren Buffett is one of my heroes, not just in investing, but also in life. On 30 August 2020, he turned an amazing 90 years old. But as his dear friend Bill Gates notes, Buffett still “has the mental sharpness of a 30-year-old, the mischievous laugh of a 10-year-old, and the diet of a 6-year-old.”

To celebrate Buffett’s extraordinary life, I want to share a few of my favourite stories about him.

Story 1: Philanthropy and the meaning of wealth

In August 2014, Buffett, together with his friends Bill and Melinda Gates, created The Giving Pledge, a movement that encourages society’s wealthiest individuals to pledge the majority of their immense wealth to philanthropic causes. The Giving Pledge started with 40 of America’s wealthiest people and today includes more than 200 families from 23 countries. The Giving Pledge has its roots in Buffett’s decision in 2006 to gradually give all of his wealth to philanthropic foundations. As part of The Giving Pledge, Buffett has committed to giving more than 99% of his wealth to philanthropy during his lifetime or at his death. According to a July 2020 New York Times articleBuffett has donated at least US$37 billion to philanthropic causes since his 2006 pledge.

For me, the admirable actions of Buffett and the Gateses are a reminder to myself that the accumulation of wealth gains meaning only if it’s used to better the lives of others and not for purely hedonistic personal enjoyment.

Story 2: Trust

In 1983, Buffett acquired 90% of The Nebraska Furniture Mart from the then-89 year-old Rose Blumkin (popularly known as Mrs B) for US$55 million. When he made the acquisition, he did not request for an audit of Nebraska Furniture Mart’s business, take an inventory, verify the receivables, nor check the company’s property titles. The contract was just over one page long.

Buffett had full trust in Blumkin’s character. It’s easy to see why. In 1950, Blumkin was sued by competitors who complained that she was engaging in unfair trading by offering low prices for furniture to consumers. This is how she responded:

“I went to Marshall Field in Chicago. I tell them I need 3,000 yards of carpet for an apartment building — I got, actually, an apartment building. I buy it from Marshall Field for $3 a yard, I sell it for $3.95 a yard. Three lawyers from Mohawk take me into court, suing me for unfair trade — they’re selling for $7.95. Three lawyers and me with my English. I go to the judge and say, ‘Judge, I sell everything 10 percent above cost, what’s wrong? I don’t rob my customers?’ He throws out the case. The next day, he comes in and buys $1,400 worth. I take out an ad with the whole case and put it in the Omaha World-Herald: ‘Here’s proof how I sell my customers.” 

I have a firm belief that it’s hard to make a bad deal with a good person no matter how poorly-written the contract is. I also believe it’s equally hard to make a good deal with a bad person, no matter how strong the contract is. Buffett’s experience with Mrs B taught me so.

Story 3: Patience 

In July 2020, I published the article, The Fascinating Facts Behind Warren Buffett’s Best Investment. It discusses Buffett’s investment in The Washington Post Company (WPC), now known as Graham Holdings Company, in the 1970s.

It’s one of my favourite Buffett stories for two reasons. First, Buffett’s WPC shares gained over 10,000% from the 1970s to 2007, making it one of the best – if not the best – investments he has ever made. Second, WPC’s share price actually fell by more than 20% shortly after Buffett invested, and then stayed there for three years.

To achieve great returns in stock market investing, patience is almost always a necessity. Buffett’s investing results show exactly why.

This article will never be seen by Warren Buffett, but I hope my birthday wishes for him can still be received by him in some way or another. Happy 90th birthday, Mr Buffett! Stay healthy and strong, always!

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Note: An earlier version of this article was published at The Good Investorsa personal blog run by our friends.

Disclosure: Ser Jing does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.

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