Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Snowball: Chapters 17, 18, 19 & 20

Warren Buffett chose Alice Schroeder to be his biographer, granting her access to his personal life like no outsider has ever been granted. In The Snowball, she is rather frank and is not always complimentary of the investing legend, which has apparently led to a rift between the two. Here follows a summary of the book.

Buffett finally has the honour of meeting Ben Graham, which was a huge thrill. Graham was an avid reader, and often preferred the company of books to people. As such, it took a lot of persistence on the part of Buffett to get to know Graham outside of his classes and seminars. Buffett was the only student to achieve an A+ in Graham's class, but that wasn't good enough to land a job at Graham-Newman - yet. Graham turned Buffett down because at the time he would only hire Jews, due to the antisemitism he saw prevalent at other firms, even though Buffett offered to work for free.

Buffett returned to Omaha and instead put his persistence to work towards Susan Thompson, who would end up being his wife. Susan wasn't interested at first, preferring the company of a man her father despised because of his Russian-Jewish heritage. But Buffett spent a lot of time with her family, and in the end his persistence won out.

During this time, Buffett and a partner purchased a gas station, but even though they spent time working there themselves, they could not beat the Texaco station from across the street. It was here that Buffett learnt the value of customer loyalty, as no matter what they did they could not capture customers from the popular owner of the gas bar just a few feet away.

Buffett also spent some time as a broker. But he had problems with the business, due to the conflicts of interest between brokers and clients. Brokers made money off of transactions, whereas Buffett would want to recommend long-term stocks to his clients. He would sell them GEICO and advise them to hold it for twenty years, but it would do nothing for his broker business. He was uncomfortable with the conflicts, and preferred a line of business where he could invest with, rather than against, his clients.

Finally, he gets accepted at Graham-Newman. Buffett moves his family (which now includes a daughter, Susie, and another one on the way) to New York and begins working for Benjamin Graham.

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