Vale Charlie Munger. The man who made Buffett’s buffet
At a score of 99 not out, you’d be forgiven for just assuming that Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger would pick off the century and then perhaps rotate the strike until his junior partner – the stock-picking hero Warren Buffett – only a few runs behind at 93, would follow suit.
Sadly – for our editor Peter Farquhar and many readers – the Oracle of Omaha’s right-hand man, closest confidante, the humble, quiet genius and also-billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway has died on Tuesday (LA time) just a few months shy of the milestone.
Munger, was Buffett’s business partner and wisdom whisperer for almost 60 years.
Munger died peacefully Tuesday morning at a California hospital, according to a statement from Berkshire.
Shakespeare, always good in an emotional pickle:
‘”Tis so strange – that, though the truth of it stands off as gross
As black and white, my eye will scarcely see it…”
Buffett first met Charlie Munger over a small meal 63 years ago. It was a chance dinner which changed many things about the nature of investing in America, how we think of money and without doubt, the Mechanics of Capitalism.
Their joint stewardship – Buffett is the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Munger was his vice-chairman and 2IC – has generated untold wealth.
Buffett never failed to position his ‘strong right arm’ as the man who made things happen, whenever he could to the media.
Maybe that’s part of the point. Humility and inclusiveness are the breadcrumbs a good leader makes sure to leave where they can best be found.
“I knew after I met Charlie, after a few minutes in the restaurant, I knew that this guy’s going to be in my life forever.
“(I knew) we were gonna have fun together, we were gonna make money together, we were gonna get ideas from each other and we were both going to behave better than if we didn’t know each other…”
– Warren Buffett on Charlie Munger (CNBC, June 30, 2021)
The Wall Street Journal this morning wrote:
“In public, especially in front of the tens of thousands of attendees at Berkshire’s annual meetings, Munger deferred to Buffett, letting the company’s chairman hog the microphone and the limelight.
Munger routinely cracked up the crowd by croaking, “I have nothing to add.””
A lawyer by training, Munger was a lifelong partner at the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles.
He remained a director on the board of Costco and chairman of the Daily Journal, a newspaper and investment company.
It was reportedly a different dance when the cameras were away, when Buffett openly looked to Munger’s guidance and judgment when making the decisions that would amount to the billions that make up Berkshire’s portfolio.
Buffett said it was Munger who initiated Berkshire’s play into the Chinese car and battery maker, BYD – still among the company’s most lucrative investments – worth circa US$6 billion in early 2021.
A x25 return.
So a great deal has been made and written and studied about the way the two nonagenarian’s go about their work, but I always thought more should be made of their friendship.
Buffett never failed to take an opportunity to flex his ‘strong right arm’ to friends, shareholders and media.
They shared an old-school commitment to humility and inclusiveness – the breadcrumbs of leadership left where best they can be followed by the people that choose to.
Like Buffett, Munger took home an annual salary of $100k for more than 25 years and like Buffett, he lived in the same house for over 60 years.
Munger’s piece of Berkshire ensured he was a wealthy man.
His stake – circa US$2 billion.
Yet Munger was just as admiring of his senior partner and younger friend.
Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger met in 1959. They worked together informally until 1978 when Munger joined Berkshire Hathaway as vice chairman. #AllThingsBuffett https://t.co/hhQWH6uN3t pic.twitter.com/LlxYQSJ0qR
— CNBC (@CNBC) May 5, 2018
… is what Buffett said of Munger on a CNBC interview from 2021 (not the one above).
When asked what the two admire about each other, Munger said the fact he and Buffett share a sense of humour.
Earlier in the above IV, Munger said they hit it off over that 1959 meal due to a common, immediately recognisable irreverence – in a very serious world, they just didn’t take themselves, or others, very seriously.
Anyway. Sometimes people with a shared passion just click. And sometimes that click changes the world of business.
Rarely. But these two were the exception which makes the rule.
“Charlie and I think pretty much alike. But what it takes me a page to explain, he sums up in a sentence,” Buffett wrote in February this year, in his annual letter to shareholders.
He made much over his choices, paused on some of his philosophies and even spent a few pars defending (or explaining) his program of stock buybacks.
But in that February version of his traditional missive, Buffett dwelt for a moment on Munger’s thinking and in doing so shared a bullet pointed love letter to the wisdom of a cherished ally.
Nothing Beats Having a Great Partner
… Charlie and I think pretty much alike. But what it takes me a page to explain, he sums up in a sentence. His version, moreover, is always more clearly reasoned and also more artfully – some might add bluntly – stated.”
Buffett then picked through some of Charlie’s thoughts he’d just listened to in a podcast, and wrote them out for shareholders, thusly:
And so it goes, Buffett continued:
“I never have a phone call with Charlie without learning something. And, while he makes me think, he also makes me laugh.
“But I will add to Charlie’s list a rule of my own: Find a very smart high-grade partner – preferably slightly older than you – and then listen very carefully to what he says.”