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Rupert Hargreaves
Rupert Hargreaves
Articles (710)  | Author's Website |

Buffett: The Key to Success Is to Keep Learning

Warren Buffett's advice to college students

May 24, 2018 | About:

The archives of Warren Buffett (Trades, Portfolio) are full of valuable information, and even though he is one of the most written-about investors of all time, there are still articles out there that fly under the radar. I'm discovering new resources on the Oracle of Omaha almost every week.

One resource I've recently found is a fall 2001 copy of the Nebraska Business magazine, a magazine for alumni and friends of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska, which Buffett attended for a short period before continuing his education at Columbia.

How to be a better you

Unlike many of Warren Buffett (Trades, Portfolio)'s interviews over the years, this interview did not concentrate on his investment prowess.

The discussion focused instead on the process of learning and business ethics, two topics that often go overlooked but are equally as crucial as Buffett's investment record.

If there's one thing to take away from this interview, it would be what Buffett describes as the "attitude of discovery." This theme runs through the whole interview. Buffett's insatiable demand for information and continued learning stands out, and if there's one thing it seems he wants to pass on to students, it is that this desire to always be better should never be squashed. Good businesses start with good people (good managers), and if the foundations are rotten, then there's not much hope for the rest of the building:

"You have to really understand the economics of a business and the kind of people you are getting into business with. They have to love their business. They have to feel that they have been creative, that it is their painting, I am not going to disturb it, just give them more canvas and more brushes, but its their painting, from our standpoint any way. The whole place will reflect the attitude of the person at the top, if you have someone at the top who doesn’t care, the people down below won’t care. On the other hand, if you have someone at the top who cares a great deal, that will be evident across the organization."

It also seems as if Buffett believes that a desire for betterment is more important than education. When asked if he thinks an MBA is a suitable qualification for students he responded:

"...What is really important is what you bring to a class in terms of being interested in the subject. If you view a course like accounting as a drudge and a requirement, you are missing the whole game. Any course can be exciting. Mastering accounting is like mastering a new language, it can be so much fun. The attitude should be one of discovery, that you are coming there and discovering. Accounting is the Rosetta Stone of business."

And then responding to the question, "What advice would you give students who are preparing for a business career?" Buffett answered:

"My advice generally is to sop up everything you can. You’re not going to run out of storage room in your brain, so take advantage of everything that is of interest. You will never have another opportunity like this in your lifetime.

I ask students what they would do if when they were sixteen, a genie came to them and told them that they could have the car of their dreams. The only catch is that it is the only car they will ever have. I know what I would do; I would study the owner’s manual until I had it memorized, and do everything I could to keep the car in the best shape possible. When you are sixteen, you only have one brain, and one body and that is all you are ever going to get."

He then went on to add:

"Follow what you are passionate about. I think it is crazy to be someplace where you feel your ethics or whatever is out of sync with your work. You really want to be in a place where you jump out of bed in the morning, and you are all fired up to get to work. I have always felt that way, basically."

This isn't one of the most extended interviews Buffett has ever given, but its underlying message is strong: The best investors and business people keep learning and trying to improve their stock. The best investment you can make is in yourself.

Disclosure: The author owns no share mentioned.

About the author:

Rupert Hargreaves
Rupert is a committed value investor and regularly writes and invests following the principles set out by Benjamin Graham. He is the editor and co-owner of Hidden Value Stocks, a quarterly investment newsletter aimed at institutional investors.

Rupert holds qualifications from the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment and the CFA Society of the UK. He covers everything value investing for ValueWalk and other sites on a freelance basis.

Visit Rupert Hargreaves's Website

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