Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger on friendship
From the 2002 Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Meeting:
Question: Hello, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger. I am 12 years old. […] My question is not about money. It’s about friendship. How do you remain friends and business partners for so long? And what advice do you have for young people like me in selecting true friends and future business partners? Thank you.
Buffett: Well, when Charlie and I met in 1959 we were introduced by the Davis family, and they predicted that within 30 minutes we would either not be able to stand each other or we would get along terrifically.
And that was a fairly insightful analysis, actually, by the Davises, because you had two personalities that both had some tendencies toward dominance in certain situations.
But we hit it off. We have disagreed, but we have never had an argument that I can remember at all in 43 years.
And yet we both have strong opinions and they aren’t the same strong opinions at times.
But the truth is we’ve had an enormous amount of fun together, we continue to have an enormous amount of fun, and nothing will change that, basically.
It may have worked better because he’s in California and I’m in Omaha, I don’t know.
I’ll let Charlie comment on it.
Munger: Well, that’s a wonderful question you’ve asked, because Warren and I both know some very successful businessmen who have not one true friend on earth. And rightly so.
Buffett: That’s true.
Munger: And that is no way to live a life. And if by asking that question, you’re asking: how do I get the right friends? You are really onto the right question.
And when you get with the right friends, if you’ve worked hard at becoming the right sort of fellow, I think you’ll recognize what you have and then all you have to do is hang on.
Buffett: The real question is: what do you like in other people? I mean, what do you want from a friend?
And if you’ll think about it, there are certain qualities that you admire in other people, that you find likeable, and that cause you to want to be around certain people.
And then look at those qualities and say to yourself, “Which of these is it physically or mentally impossible for me to have?” And the answer will be none.
I mean, it’s only reasonable that if certain things that attract you to other people that, if you possess those, they will attract other people to you.
And secondarily, if you find certain things repulsive in other people — whether they brag or they’re dishonest or whatever it may be — if that turns you off, it’s going to turn other people off if you possess those qualities.
And those are choices. You know, very few of those things are in your DNA. They are choices.
And they are also habits. I mean, if you have habits that attract people early on, you’ll have them later on. And if you have habits that repel people, you’re not going to cure it when you’re 60 or 70.
Buffett: It’s not a complicated equation. And, as I remember, Benjamin Franklin did something like that one time. Didn’t he list the qualities he admired, and then just set out to acquire them?
Munger: Absolutely. He went at it the way you’ve gone after acquiring money.
Buffett: They’re not mutually exclusive.
Munger: No [they are not].
Their advice in a nutshell:
- Figure out the qualities that you like in other people. They are the kind of friends you want
- Be the person that has the very same qualities that you admire in other people. Why? Because having those qualities will likely attract like-minded and like-behaved people to you — the friends you are looking for!
- Once you have them, simply hang on
They also threw in the conversation some other interesting observations about themselves, and human nature in general:
- Their personalities tend to be dominant (which probably means intellectually dominant)
- Personality traits tend to stable over adult life
- Buffett has — very intentionally, very tenaciously — set out to make money
In an interview with CNBC released on June 29th 2021, Warren and Charlie touched on the topic of their own friendship again.
They shared more details on how they first met and why they instantly hit it off:
Buffett: There was a doctor couple, very prominent in Omaha, and his name was Eddie Davis, her name was Dorothy Davis. And it was Mrs. Davis that called me, actually. She did everything. She said, “We’ve heard that you manage money and, and we’d be kind of interested in listening to your story about how you do it, and what we might do with you.”
So I went over and I talked to them. And I was all full of myself and like that’s, you know, I couldn’t talk fast enough about stocks in those days. And Dorothy Davis, very smart, listened to every word. And the doctor was kind of over in the corner, submitting a yoyo or something, and really not paying much attention. And I got all through and the wife looked over at the doctor [who] said, “I’m gonna give him $100,000.” And I was managing about $500,000 at the time, so it was a big deal.
And in a very nice way, I said, “Dr. Davis, you really haven’t been paying much attention to what I’ve been saying and everything. I’d kinda like to know why you’re giving me this $100,000.” And Dr. Davis looked at me and he said, “Well, you remind me of Charlie Munger.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know who Charlie Munger is, but I like him.” And he gave me $100,000.
And then they told me about Charlie. [As a] young kid, how he would be over there asking them questions on medicine, and giving them lectures. I mean, they clearly loved him. And it sorta became their mission that sometime they wanted to get me and Charlie together. So, Charlie, in 1959, his dad died and he came back to Omaha. His mother lived there and the Davises really got us together.
So they arranged the dinner. And about five minutes into it, Charlie was sort of rolling on the floor laughing at his own jokes, which is exactly the same thing I did. So I thought, “This, I’m not gonna find another guy like this.” And we just hit it off.
Buffett: Both of our wives thought, “My god, another one.”
Munger: What I like about Warren is the irreverence. We don’t have automatic reverence for the pompous heads of all civilization.
Buffett: We were kind of always that way. We were a little more extreme. I’ve learned to behave a little bit better. Charlie really hasn’t learned much better. I just knew instantly Charlie was the kinda guy that I was gonna like, and I was gonna learn from. But, you know, it wasn’t anything calculated, a decision or anything like that. It was natural. And, we have had nothing but fun.
Buffett: I knew when I met Charlie, after a few minutes in the restaurant, that, you know, this guy was gonna be in my life forever. I mean, we were gonna have fun together. We were gonna make money together. We were gonna get ideas from each other. We were gonna both behave better than if we didn’t know each other.
On what they admire the most about the other nowadays:
Rebecca Quick: You two have been friends for over 60 years, what’s one thing that you really admire about the other?
Munger: Well, I like the humor, and all that, but dependable is really important.
Rebecca Quick: Warren, what do you admire about Charlie?
Buffett: Really, just the kind of person he’s been. He has contributed to individuals, and also to society. It goes well beyond buying a stock and selling it higher. He’s designed dormitories and helped build them. He’s worked at hospitals and to understand how they can be made better, and serve more people, and do it at less cost. You know, it’s an uphill fight all the time, but Charlie’s worked on big problems, and he doesn’t need to.
And Charlie has never shaded anything he’s told me since we met, in terms of presenting it to me in a different way than reality, or he’s never done anything I’ve seen that’s self-serving, in terms of [not] being a partner, or in any kind of way. He makes me better than I would otherwise be. I don’t wanna disappoint him.
Munger: But you’ve had the same thing, in reverse.
Buffett: Yeah, well, it works. It does work that way. I mean, it’s better to associate with people who are better than you are.
In Towards Greatness
Tagged with Warren Buffett · Charlie Munger · Moral & Ethics · Human Interactions
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