Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some new thoughts from Charlie Munger

I'm a huge fan of Charlie Munger.  

So when I come across some new bit of his thinking that I hadn't seen before, I gobble it up.

While researching a post for Farnam Street, I uncovered Michael Eisner's book, Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed.

The book has a pretty interesting chapter on the Buffett/Munger partnership and some stuff that I'd never seen before.

Munger hated the entertainment business. 
Meanwhile, Berkshire Hathaway was the controlling shareholder in Cap Cities, and in that we made half of the deal with Disney stock, I realized quickly Berkshire would become one of our largest shareholders. That was great news for our company, but I knew Charlie hated the entertainment business. I had heard many times in conversations with him over the years in Los Angeles how he hated “the waste,” “the lack of stable management,” “the insane fees paid to talent,” and a business run by “one’s gut rather than one’s mind.”
Munger on Rails
In my conversation with Warren, he told me about one time when he called up Charlie with an idea, saying they should buy stock in the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway. The response was less than enthusiastic. "Well, I don't like railroads," Charlie started. "I don't like businesses with a lot of labor content. I particularly don't like when they're unionized. I don't like capital-intense businesses. I particularly don't like eastern railroads. But if you are telling me that you've researched this thing from A to Z, that you'll follow it twenty times a week and you'll keep track of it and take full responsibility for it.then I'll just shut my eyes and say no."
Munger on playing the secondary role
“That’s one of the beauties of the partnership,” says Charlie. “I am in so many activities where I am the dominant personality. Most people do not ‘fit into’ that mode—they can only operate in that mode. Yet I am particularly willing to play the secondary role. Warren’s a more able man in doing what we’re doing, so it’s the appropriate response. There are some times you should be first, some times you should be second, and some times you should be third.”
Munger on BYD
“Charlie thinks exactly like I do,” says Warren, “but he puts things through a tougher filter than I do. There are only two things he’s ever liked better than I liked that we’ve done. One was the tool company Iscar. I loved it—but when Charlie falls in love with something, forget about it. Also, there’s a deal with a Chinese car company, BYD, we did recently. I wasn’t so sure about it. Charlie tells me the Chinese guy running the company, Wang Chuanfu, is the Henry Ford of China. I’m still not jumping. Then he says he’s the Thomas Edison of China. Still no. Then, the Bill Gates of China. Nope. Then, his trump card. He’s the Warren Buffett of China!”
Improving himself
“I have always wanted to improve what I do, even if it reduces my income in any given year. And I always set aside time so I can play my own self-amusement and improvement game.”
Classic Munger
Several years ago, Charlie Munger was testifying at an arbitration hearing, and getting grilled about a recent board meeting. He claimed he didn’t recall what the lawyer was asking him about. “Mr. Munger,” the lawyer said, “you are reputed to have a very good memory. Are you really telling me you don’t remember it?” “Well,” Charlie is said t have responded, “I only listen when I’m the one talking.”