On the rare occasion that Heartland Boy was able to take a full-carrier flight from Jakarta to Singapore, he decided to plug into the in-flight entertainment system. He selected this documentary titled Becoming Warren Buffett amongst the long list of movies and TV programmes. Before long, he was totally absorbed in the show. The values and habits of Warren Buffett were so valuable that Heartland Boy decided to pen a review about the documentary on Warren Buffett. This article shall serve as a reminder to Heartland Boy about the most important factors that made Warren Buffett so successful. Furthermore, an excellent documentary such as this definitely deserves a greater audience. For those who have not watched the documentary, here are 6 powerful lessons from the review of Becoming Warren Buffett.
Lesson 1: Frugality
“The S&P 500 Index was down yesterday, so I feel a bit poor this morning. Therefore, I told my wife to prepare $2.60 for my breakfast at McDonalds this morning.”
What Heartland Boy finds most astounding is the personal frugality of Warren Buffett’s. As a multi-billionaire, market conditions actually dictate what he is going to have for his breakfast! If the market is down, he would have a $2.60 breakfast from McDonalds. When the market is up, he would treat himself to a more luxurious $3.20 breakfast set. A difference of 60 cents would not even cause a dent to his personal net worth, yet it actually matters much to him. This frugality probably stems from his childhood when he had to sell coke door to door to supplement his own allowance. It was experiences such as this that made him appreciate the value of money. Not surprisingly, he still stays in the house that he purchased in 1957.
Lesson 2: Generosity
“In my entire lifetime, everything that I have spent will be quite a bit less than 1 percent of everything I make. The other 99 percent-plus will go to others, because it has no utility for me. So it’s silly for me to not transfer that utility to people who can use it. It’s doing me no good.”
Before one jumps to the wrong conclusion that Warren Buffett is a stingy old man, he is in fact the most generous person on planet Earth. In 2006, Warren Buffett pledged to give his entire fortune away to charity. Most of it went to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the various foundations established by his 3 children. One can imagine how much this commitment meant to someone who counts his nickels every morning!
He credited his ex-wife for opening up his eyes towards charitable acts. In his own words, his ex-wife made him a “whole person”. Indeed, he cited marrying his wife as one of the 2 major turning points in his life.
Lesson 3: Resilience
“I was so proud to complete Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course that I hang that certificate in my office. Not even my certificates from the various universities made it to that wall.”
Interestingly, Warren Buffett named the completion of Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course as the other major turning point in his life. He stated that it helped him overcome his greatest fear – public speaking. It gave him the confidence to lecture groups of participants who were twice his age on the topic of investment.
Warren Buffett’s strength in adversity was again apparent when he learnt that he had been rejected by Harvard Business School. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he wrote a letter to Columbia University. He acted immediately upon discovering that his financial idols, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, were teaching there. It turned out to be a major blessing in disguise. Benjamin Graham, the godfather of value investing, ended up becoming Warren Buffett’s greatest mentor. Benjamin Graham only had 2 simple rules in investing, which Warren Buffett has not forgotten till today:
Rule No 1: Never lose money.
Rule No 2: Do not forget rule Number 1.
These 2 rules became his greatest investing lesson. Warren Buffett credited this resilience and self-confidence to his Dad. His Dad had always had unlimited confidence in him even during situations when he screwed up terribly.
Lesson 4: Inquisitiveness
“I would go to the bookstore and instead of picking up Playboy like most teenage boys would do; I pick up Moody’s directory of listed companies.”
Warren Buffett’s philosophy towards personal development is best encapsulated in his analogy to a class of students. He stated that one often chooses cars to last for a long time. However, one has to remember that one is given only 1 mind and 1 body to last for a lifetime. To that end, he reads the newspapers daily for an average of 4 to 5 hours. It keeps him updated to developments around the world. He would also pore over the annual reports of the companies and had an uncanny ability to remember their market capitalization and outstanding shares.
Lesson 5: Focus
“Investing is like watching pitch after pitch goes by. However, when one finally comes your way (circle of competence), you have to swing hard and go for the home run.”
When an interviewer spontaneously asked Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to write down one word that have propelled them to be the richest persons in the world, both gentlemen wrote the word “focus”. It was this focus that had allowed Warren Buffett to be so successful in investing. He explained that because stock is a very liquid asset, the temptation to act is very high. As a result, one often acts far too frequently and veers from his circle of competence.
Warren Buffett also chooses to display some of the most traumatic financial disasters found on front page newspapers along the corridors in his office.
They serve as an apt reminder to him on the irrationality of markets and the poignant need to stay focused at all times. However, sometimes, this focus can be taken to extremes. In a light-hearted manner, he revealed that he once picked up a girl on their first date in a hearse all because he owns shares in that company!
Lesson 6: Experience
“You really need some experiences, and I’m wiser in that respect than I was 40 or 50 years ago.”
Warren Buffett also acknowledged that he is not the most natural person when it comes to human interactions. While not endowed with such qualities, he has leveraged on his experiences over the years to become more adept at understanding human nature. He explained that while a book can only teach so much about investment, one would never be able to learn as much about human beings from it.
Conclusion From Becoming Warren Buffett
Becoming Warren Buffett gave very personal insights into the Sage of Omaha. His habits, beliefs, values and philosophies were all laid bare in this biography. It is also punctuated with delightful quotes from the man. Heartland Boy has definitely benefited tremendously from this 90-minute documentary. It resulted in him drawing conclusions about 6 valuable lessons that everyone can learn from this great philanthropist. In fact, Heartland Boy became so emotional and inspired after watching the documentary that it momentarily made him forget about his flight delay.