Do what Pabrai says, but not always what he does
So the tails I don't lose much was not being followed by the teacher. Believe it or not I actually sent him an e-mail through his website about Delta in the summer of 2008 suggesting that he was not appreciating the downside. I wonder if he got the e-mail or remembers it ??
I read an interview with him recently and pulled out some thoughtful and interesting points:
Pabrai: I think the biggest edge would be attitude. So you know, Charlie Munger likes to say that you don't make money when you buy stocks. And you don't make money when you sell stocks. You make money by waiting. And so the biggest, the single biggest advantage a value investor has is not IQ; it's patience and waiting. Waiting for the right pitch and waiting for many years for the right pitch.
Pabrai: Yeah. "All man's miseries stem from his inability to sit in a room alone and do nothing." And all I'd like to do to adapt Pascal is, "All investment managers' miseries stem from the inability to sit alone in a room and do nothing."
Pabrai: You know, actually, I think that the way the investment business is set up, it's actually set up the wrong way. The correct way to set it up is to have gentlemen of leisure, who go about their leisurely tasks, and when the world is severely fearful is when they put their leisurely task aside and go to work. That would be the ideal way to set up the investment business.
Pabrai: That's right. I mean, I think the low risk, high uncertainty is really something I borrowed from entrepreneurs, and you know, the Patels in India or the Richard Bransons of the world. Basically if you study entrepreneurs, there is a misnomer: People think that entrepreneurs take risk, and they get rewarded because they take risk. In reality entrepreneurs do everything they can to minimize risk. They are not interested in taking risk. They want free lunches and they go after free lunches. And so if you study any number of entrepreneurs, from Ray Kroc to, you know, Herb Schultz at Starbucks ( SBUX - news - people ) and to even Buffett and Munger and so on, what you'll find is that they have repeatedly made bets which are low-risk bets, which have high-return possibilities. So they're not going high risk, high return. They're going low risk, high return.
And even with Bill Gates, for example. The total amount of capital that ever went into Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ) was less than $50,000, between the time it started and today. That's the total amount of capital that went into the company. So Microsoft you cannot say was a high-risk venture because there was no capital deployed. But it had high uncertainty. Bill Gates could have gone bankrupt. Or Bill Gates could have ended up the wealthiest person on the Forbes 400. And he ended up at the extreme end of the bell curve, and that's fine. But he did not take risk to get there. He was comfortable with uncertainty. So entrepreneurs are great at dealing with uncertainty and also very good at minimizing risk. That's the classic great entrepreneur
Pabrai: Well, the insight is the same, in the sense that I think that, you know, Warren says that I'm a better investor because I'm a businessman, and I'm a better businessman because I'm an investor. So the thing is that my experiences as a businessman have very direct, long-term positive impacts on me as an investor, because when I'm looking at an investment, I now look at it like the way I looked at my first business, which is, the first thing I'm looking at is, how can I lose money on this? And can I absolutely minimize my downside?
The upsides will take care of themselves. It's the downsides that one needs to worry about, which is why even the checklist becomes important. But so the important thing that value investors focus on is downside protection. And that's exactly what entrepreneurs focus on--what is my downside? So that is the, I would say, the crossover between entrepreneurship in investing, and value investing especially, is protecting your downside.
Pabrai: Well Delta Financial was a full loss for the firm, for the fund. We lost 100% of our investment. It was a company that went bankrupt. And we've learned a lot of lessons from Delta. And one of the lessons was that Delta was, in many ways, a very highly levered company and they were very dependent on a functioning securitization market. And when that market shut down, they were pretty much out of business. And they were caught flat-footed. And so there's a number of lessons I've obviously learned from Delta.
It's easier to learn the lessons when you don't take the hits in your own portfolio. But when you take the hits in your own portfolio, those lessons stay with you for a long time."
Here is the link to the full article: http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/09/pabrai-leisure-china-intelligent-investing-technology.html
I think if you follow a couple of his key points of minimizing the downside and letting the upside take care of itself and low risk, high uncertainty you will greatly improve as an investor. Easier said than done of course.