Life Lessons from Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

Suddenly, I’m entering a hotel in Omaha thinking, “How did I get here?” Just one month before, I received news that I was accepted to participate in a learning journey to meet Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the most successful investors of all time. I could not believe it.

I had unsuccessfully applied for the chance to meet the “Oracle of Omaha” for two years. In my third attempt, persistency paid off. Yet still, in the lobby, I asked myself, “Is this real?” But, then I saw Buffett enter the hotel, smiling. I could not believe my eyes. There he was, flesh and blood, five meters from me! A dream come true.

During the course of the meeting, I learned that Buffett is humble, optimistic, and full of valuable lessons for everyone, especially an entrepreneur and value investor like me. Interestingly, the most important lessons weren’t about investing; they dealt with personal life and being a better human. Mohnish Pabrai, another great value investor, once said: “I believe the best things about Warren have nothing to do with investing, but they have everything to do with leading a great life.” I could not agree more.

Here are a few insights Buffett shared.

Life Comes Down to Decisions

What decisions trump any professional or financial choices we make? Who we surround ourselves with, answered Buffett. Here’s why: we are influenced by people we spend time with. We either get better or worse based on our partner, friends, and business colleagues, so who you surround yourself with is critical.

Success is about consistency and learning every day. Buffett, a learning machine, reads six hours per day and wishes he could read more. Another valuable lesson in life and investing: long term, long term, long term! It’s not a horse race—look for people and partnerships who also aim for the long term. I remember reading a speech from another great entrepreneur and investor, Jorge Paulo Lemann from 3G Capital. He said one thing he wished he knew in his 20s was the importance of focusing on the real long term. Both Buffett and Lemann are probably right.

Furthermore, Buffett said we can become whoever we want. It is all about analyzing what people you admire the most do, and incorporating those habits in your life. Get rid of the bad habits right away.

On Money and Giving Back

Money and age make you more of what you already are. If you are a bad person, money can make you become terrible. If you are a good person, you can use it to improve others’ lives.

Though he’s worth more than $80 billion, Buffett is extremely humble and charitable. He says his wealth is a matter of luck—he’s male, and was born in the U.S. during a period of economic growth. After a certain point, Buffett said, money has no utility for a single person. It does, however, hold a lot of utility for poorer people. It is our responsibility to share. A basketball court on a yacht gives Buffett no joy, but taking fear away from people’s lives gives him an infinite amount of joy. He does that by sharing his wealth. He has committed to giving nearly 99 percent of his fortune to charity, and partnered with Bill and Melinda Gates to launch The Giving Pledge in 2010.

Finally, money cannot buy love and time. Thus, we need to be wise about how we are spending our time. When it comes to jobs, Buffett asked: What job would you take if you did not need the money? Do not waste time!

Choose Your Team Wisely, Then Let Them Lead

When choosing or evaluating a management team, understand if they love the money or the business. Ajit Jain, recently named vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, visits his employees constantly and knows them by name. He already is a billionaire, but he loves his work.

Here’s the lesson: choose great management and let them work. However, when great management confronts a bad business, Buffett advised: “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”

Invest in Women

Buffett reminds us that the U.S. achieved growth and progress in the past using only part of its labor capacity, because women were not given the opportunity to hold many types of jobs. Therefore, imagine when we and other countries use 100 percent of our capacity by giving full access to every professional opportunity to women and men equally. The future is bright!

He acknowledged that challenges for women in the workplace still exist. His advice: go for it. Build a track record, do not get stuck on challenges or on facing the injustices that will appear. If you empower people to earn money, you can gain their attention. It does not matter who you are.

Family Support

Here, again, he was humble and shared that his wife was responsible for 98 percent of the education of their children. She was a great mother and he was very lucky to have her. His impact was through example.

For parents, he advised them to have expectations regarding what kind of person your children will be, not expectations about their occupation. Don’t just care about degree. Instead, care about the principles your children have and live by. Tell them that you are going to be there to support them. Also, you should help your kids, but not too much.

Overall, meeting Warren was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and made me think how to be a better human—I hope it will inspire you to become a better human, too.

* All the comments in this text reflect the author’s interpretation and reflection of the meeting and they may not be the exact opinion expressed by people mentioned in the text.

Photo credit: Krista Kennell / Shutterstock

Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership

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