"In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time — none, zero."
— Charlie Munger
In the late 1950s, Warren Buffett was running his partnerships in Omaha, and was still pretty much unknown in the investment community (he had been investment sales for his father’s firm and a securities analyst for Ben Graham’s firm up until this point). One day, he was having a conversation with his neighbor, and inquired about his plans for putting his children through college; the man, who was a father of six and a coffee salesman, had no real plan. Warren asked, “Why don’t you give me $25,000 for the partnership to invest?” which the man rejected. Later, Warren came back and asked for $10,000, which was also rejected. While the man missed out on this particular opportunity, he ended up doing all right when all was said and done…
The gentleman’s name was Donald Keough. As mentioned above, Don was a salesman at Paxton and Gallagher’s Butternut Coffee; eventually, he moved on to Duncan Foods, which was eventually acquired by Coca-Cola (KO) in 1964. After working his way up the corporate ladder, Don became president of the Coca-Cola Company in 1981, a position he held for 12 years; since 2004, he has served as a director for the company, and also sits on the board of directors at Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)(BRK.B).
In 2008, Don released a book entitled “The Ten Commandments of Business Failure,” based upon his lifetime in business. The ten things he lays out for guaranteed failure are:
1. Quit Taking Risks
2. Be Inflexible
3. Isolate Yourself
4. Assume Infallibility
5. Play the Game Close to the Foul Line
6. Don’t Take Time to Think
7. Put All Your Faith in Experts & Outside Consultants
8. Love Your Bureaucracy
9. Send Mixed Messages
10. Be Afraid of the Future
Not surprisingly, some of these commandments are very similar to what we’ve heard from Warren over the years; for example, imagining that your actions will be on the front page of tomorrow’s paper for your family and neighbors to read about fits nicely with number five, a commandment that far too many people in corporate America fail to live by these days. Without diving in any further, it’s safe to say that you want to read this book; as Bill Gates put it, this book “will teach you more about business success than a whole shelf full of books.”
About the author:
As it relates to portfolio construction, my goal is to make a small number of meaningful decisions. In the words of Charlie Munger, my preferred approach is "Patience followed by pretty aggressive conduct." I run a concentrated portfolio, with a handful of equities accounting for the majority of my portfolio (currently two). In the eyes of a businessman, I believe this is adequate diversification.