Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Snowball: Chapters 57, 58 & 59

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.

Throughout his career to this point, Buffett's reputation had been helpful for his investments. With increased fame and success, however, his reputation began to work against him in some ways. If he offered a price for a company, there was a perception that the sellers were getting ripped off, since Buffett only buys undervalued companies. Schroeder describes one case in particular with respect to Clayton Homes where nobody wanted the stock - until Buffett made an offer for the company. At that point, shareholders, the media, legal firms and other groups argued that the deal was unfair and that Buffett was trying to rip people off.

In other cases, Buffett's prominence made otherwise small companies big targets of special interest groups. For example, anti-abortionists boycotted a small company which Berkshire owned, because Berkshire was making donations to pro-choice groups. (The company being boycotted had nothing to do with abortions; it sold kitchen-ware.) Buffett caved to the pressure and stopped Berkshire's charity program.

These chapters also deal extensively with the health issues now experienced (circa 2003) by Buffett's ex-wife, who was diagnosed with cancer. Susie remained a big part of Buffett's life even though they had split up, so her battle with illness caused great strain on the entire family.

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