This past weekend, my family and I attended our 12th consecutive Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting (#BRK2014). It’s an event I’ve written about extensively in the past. It has become such a tradition for us – we have our routines: We stay at the same hotel, we have the same schedule, we go to many of the same places, etc., etc. – the one thing that typically (but not always) changes is the restaurants at which we dine (although, our picks this year were so amazing, we’ll probably go back to the same places next year – Salween Thai and Avoli – you should check ‘em out next time you’re in Omaha!).
Every year, Warren Buffett and his long-time partner, Charlie Munger, sit on a stage in the CenturyLink Center and take questions from a combination of journalists, investment analysts and shareholders for about five hours. For those of us privileged enough to hear their remarks, we take some tidbit of wisdom away making the annual pilgrimage well worthwhile.
The #BRK2014 element that I took from this year’s “show” was something quite different… it was a rare tender moment shared from the stage between Warren and the typically curmudgeon-y Charlie. It was a somewhat emotional exchange that was felt by the 40,000 person crowd.
The question was about the 55 year friendship/partnership between Warren and Charlie. The speaker wanted to know what would happen when one them was no longer living. Would BRK change as a result of the absence of one of the two wizards? Here’s a paraphrased version of their responses:
Sample Comments from Warren:
- Everyone asks about what happens when I die, but nobody ever asks about Charlie. BRK is better off because the two of us have been working together. It’s a magnificent way to operate.
- Charlie and I have never had an argument; not in 55 years. It’ll never happen. Whoever replaces me will need to find a partner [like I’ve found in Charlie.]
Sample Comments from Charlie:
- To get a good partner, deserve a good partner. It’s an old-fashioned way of doing business. Just behave.
- I’m proud to be associated with [Warren].
There was something sweet and even a little sad about the way Warren and Charlie interacted this year. It felt like the start of the wind down – something that we haven’t really heard before and I find myself grasping to hold on to what has always been – Warren and Charlie at the helm. Despite their ages, Warren is 83; Charlie is 90 – the two remain sharp as tacks and I hope will be up on the dais forever! But, alas, no one lives forever… indeed, it may be the start to the wind down. Hopefully, it will be a long wind down.
The upshot of all of this is that I feel privileged to have learned from and to continue to learn from two geniuses over these last several years. Today, most geniuses are too smart to think beyond the here and now… they want to divulge all their brilliance at once… not Warren and Charlie. These two think beyond their lifetimes. They are patient… they run races and win marathons. They have proven that it is possible to do the right thing – over and over again – with dignity, principles and aplomb and to do better than those who attempt to cheat the system. They have proven that it is possible to partner with another human being, to earn their trust and, while you may not agree all the time, you can certainly continue to respect and admire one another always.
Despite my perceptions that something is coming to an end as a result of their remarks, it was so refreshing to hear them vocalize their affection and admiration for one another. I hope, one day, to be worthy of those sorts of accolades, even from the typically curmudgeon-y in my tribe, who like me anyway. We should all aspire to this over our lifetimes and beyond… see you next year in Omaha!