Eighty-seven years old… Susie has told me it’s time to start thinking about writing my memoires. Hmm… She’s always ahead of the game, my Susie, and always worried for me. What could have gotten into her to be explaining to the press that I didn’t have stockpiles of Coke at my house? Even worse, to be claiming that I pay for what I drink myself? That’s a heck of a story, right there. (Smiles.) Pushing my daughter to defend me publicly against rumours! All that did is get tongues wagging even more, saying that I buy everything in bulk or just that I’m a disgracefully privileged tycoon. Everyone knows that I drink five cans of Coke a day and that I am – or that Berkshire Hathaway is, anyway – the largest shareholder in The Coca-Cola Company. From that, you’d think that there is a Coke pipeline keeping my Omaha living room supplied, free of charge, from their Atlanta head office; how naïve can you be? My dear Susie still has a thing or two to learn about the press. That’s something that could go into my memoirs. Pointer No 1: don’t respond to public comments, particularly when you are in the public eye, whether as an individual or a company.

The CCC and me have a long and happy history. Aged seven and wearing shorts, I sold my first cans, going from door to door. (Smiles.) How much has that worked out at to date? For Berkshire, it’s $15 billion in earnings over 25 years, not counting dividends. That made it well worth lending them a helping hand for the launch of Cherry Coke in China. Still, good old Kent[1] really outdid himself by putting my face on the cans and 500 ml bottles. Flattering and daring; not to mention that I love a bit of Cherry Coke. So, I even granted them my image rights. Pointer No 2: to invest long term is to get personally involved. Buying shareholdings is all well and good. Getting behind a business that has potential over at least 15-20 years and a product that you really love is better.

As we’ll see, there’s a clear link with pointer No 3: stay humble! I, the “Oracle of Omaha”, really got burned by ConocoPhillips. I darned-well didn’t see that fall in the oil price coming. Who did? Market forces have a mind of their own and we can’t always predict them in our portfolio management. Just like in bridge, we think we’re playing our hand masterfully, but then lose the stake. Good investors and good players both need to be able to take losses win their money back.

Talking of good players, Bill[2] should be arriving any minute. We’re halfway through a game. I still haven’t persuaded good old Charlie[3] to sign up to the Giving Pledge. What’s the point, after all? He doesn’t believe in it, but we do agree on the end goal: our subsidiaries are infused with the spirit of philanthropy and our philanthropy is infused with the spirit of enterprise. That’s some good philanthrocapitalism! (Smiles.) My pointer No 4: don’t ask what society can do for your business, but what your business can do for society. I’m grateful to dear JFK: his voice is still ringing in my ears. When I think that Bill compared Trump to Kennedy in terms of leading America for innovation. Even the greatest visionary can absolutely go blind. Could my dear friend’s glitch have been the seed of Trump’s Tweet about his plan to declassify the so-called secrets of JFK’s assassination? Who knows?

More seriously, while we’re on the subject of vision and leadership, here is my pointer No 5: know how to be hands-off – a leader needs to inspire. To do that, you must scrupulously train their teams, make them autonomous, trust in their expertise and… be able to let go.

Memoirs of a stockbroker – yes, why not? In the end, my Susie is right: Mungo Jerry really have been singing it since the ’70s. Hey, sounds like Bill is here. We’ll be able to get back to our hand of bridge. The game must go on

 

[1] Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive
[2] Bill Gates, co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and of the Giving Pledge
[3]Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway