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The Oracle of Omaha

I have been reading a remarkable and unusual book about a remarkable and unusual business, and learning some remarkable – and sometimes unusual – things.

Warren Buffett speaking to a group of students from the Kansas University School of Business - Work of Mark Hirschey

The business is one of the most impressive in the world – often described as the best business to work for – and it is run by Warren Buffett, a man for whom ego plays no part at all in his business life or management style.  Yet this is also a man who sits atop a company with over 250,000 employees, assets of nearly $400 billion, and an annual net income of over $10 billion.  That company is Berkshire Hathaway.


The Remarkable Book

The remarkable and unusual book I have been reading is called “The Warren Buffett CEO” by Robert P Miles and it is remarkable as a tribute to a great manager, because it is primarily not about Buffett.  It is about the great CEOs he hires.

The extent to which it is about Buffett is that it demonstrates how his careful selection of CEO – based almost entirely on character, rather than credentials, resumes or recommendations – and then his ability to leave them alone to run their businesses makes him “”the best boss in the world”.  Of course, he doesn’t abandon them: he is available any time for a phone conversation and many of them take the opportunity, because they learn from him whenever they do.

Many, Many Remarkable Managers

The book is actually about the stories, personalities and management styles of a selection of Buffett’s CEOs: his “All Stars”.  There is much to learn from these men and women (mostly middle aged men, it must be observed).  Each chapter focuses on one or two of them and each ends with a short selection of their business tenets.

I’d like to share some of my favourites.

Warren Buffett CEO Management Tenets

‘Go out of your way to help your managers.
Stan Lipsey

‘Success in any field can be achieved by staying disciplined.’
Al Ueltschi

‘Mandatory retirement is not a policy I endorse.  As long as someone is healthy and interested in working, he or she should stay on the job.  The intelligence and experience of older people can be a tremendous asset.’
Chuck Higgins – in 2001

‘Try to get along with everyone.  Having a positive attitude affects the people around you.’
Susan Jacques

‘Honesty and integrity should govern all your business decisions.’
Harold Melton

‘View your staff as if they were family.’
Irvin Blumkin

‘If you’re on the fence about a particular deal, then you probably should decline and move on to the next opportunity.’
Ajit Jain

And finally, I think more big businesses should think like this: it’s a paragraph in a letter Buffett wrote to the CEOs of the Berkshire Hathaway businesses.

‘We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money.  We cannot afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.’

or, as Othello says:

‘Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.’

These are only a tiny sampling from a magnificent book.
Do find yourself a copy.

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