Pearls of Wisdom from Omaha

For many years, our family has been enjoying an annual pilgrimage to worship at the altar of the Oracle of Omaha. Saturday is jam-packed with advice from Warren Buffett (92) and Charlie Munger (99), the sharp-minded and sharp-tongued duo. Each person attending draws his own pearls of wisdom. Here are a few of my golden nuggets.

The day begins with a hilarious video production. This year’s film featured Oscar-winning actress Jamie Lee Curtis, spoofing with Buffett about having a sexual obsession with Munger. Curtis chided that Berkshire Hathaway is a lousy name and should be re-dubbed “Mungeritaville.”

This year’s meeting was streamed live on CNBC. Buffett lamented that the telecast was airing alongside a competitive broadcast, the coronation of King Charles. As consolation, he anointed Berkshire Hathaway’s own royalty: “We’ve got our own King Charles,” the inimitable Charlie Munger.

As I wrote in last week’s post, I was honored with the opportunity to ask my third question, dealing with the importance of preparing heirs for the inheritance coming their way. Buffett delivered an answer I labeled a “Master Class in Family Legacy Planning.” See last week’s post for details (link).

In his typical sharp-edged tone, Munger opined that “a vast diversification of common stocks is an insane idea.” He considers it better to own your three best ideas, admonishing to “ignore advice that leads to the ‘de-worse-ification’ of portfolios.”

Continuing the theme of this year’s annual letter to shareholders, Buffett acknowledged he’s made a lot of investment mistakes, but got a few things right. “Try to get a few things right and sooner or later you’ll have a lollapalooza.” But try to avoid mistakes so big they take you out of the game. “Spend less than you earn, and practice deferred gratification.”

Speaking of making the right decision, Buffett announced my personal favorite of the day: “If you make the right decision on a spouse, you’ve won the game.” He also captured my heart with this investment advice: “Your best investment is always in yourself and in your own earning power.” Buffett added this advice for a meaningful life: “Write your own obituary and try to figure out how to live up to it.” He described the process as “reverse engineering,” writing your obituary now and then living so as to make your obituary come true.

Regarding artificial intelligence (“AI”), the duo acknowledged it’s good for searching all the legal opinions that have been issued over prior decades. But Buffett asserted that AI “can never replace Charlie” and can’t tell jokes (at least not as good as Charlie’s jokes).

Capitalism is a success story, versus an economy like Russia’s where, per Charlie, “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” Moderate social safety nets are needed, but the growth from capitalism helps those at the bottom better than a wide social safety net.

Speaking almost as if directly aimed at me, Buffett warns that even if someone could sell their company at age 65 and make a lot of money, why would you want to retire at 65? Obviously, neither Buffett nor Munger ever wanted to retire, and neither do I!

I always enjoy their foray into lessons for living a meaningful life. Don’t do any unkind acts, or you’ll end up like plenty of people who die with money, but without friends. In being kind, “praise by name, criticize by category.” Avoid toxic people. “Get them the hell out of your life, and do it fast!” If the toxic person is in your family, “it’s a very tough problem,” but do your best to minimize them in your life.

Per Charlie, Elon Musk “likes taking on the impossible job. We’re different. We like taking on the easy job. We don’t want that much failure.” This was in response to a question quoting Charlie as saying he’d rather hire someone with an IQ of 130 who thinks it’s 120, than someone with an IQ of 150 who thinks it’s 170.

Discussing Berkshire’s investment in NetJets, Buffett teased about Munger’s frugality. Charlie used to fly coach from Los Angeles to Omaha for the annual meeting. He said he was surrounded by a lot of rich Berkshire shareholders also in coach, who would clap when Charlie entered the coach section. Warren joked that they couldn’t get Charlie to fly private on NetJets until they put a coach seat in the plane for him.

Charlie also quipped that he stopped practicing law in 1962. “The modern law practice in a big firm is like a pie-eating contest. If you win, you get to eat more pie.” He advised lawyers to stay away from that kind of law firm. I couldn’t agree more! That’s precisely why I created The Blum Firm, providing a quality of life and culture where our team can thrive.

This sampling gives you a taste of the quick wit and brilliance of the two geniuses. What a privilege to learn from them! Charlie turns 100 next year, and Warren will be 93. If you’ve ever considered going, I suggest you join us in Omaha next year. As my son Adam warns me whenever I’m tempted to skip a year, it could be the last one. I certainly hope not!

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin, Laurie, and Adam Blum with a cardboard cutout of Warren Buffett enjoying the 2023 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.