Monday, January 17, 2011

The Snowball: Chapters 60, 61 & 62

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.

Under the microscope in the mid-2000's, Buffett was forced to deal with a number of adversities. His ex-wife, Susie, passed away. Schroeder details the effects her illness and death had on Buffett and the rest of the family.

For most of Buffett's life, he had felt it made more sense for him to accumulate wealth, for this way, when he passed away there would be more of it to give away. But at this point, Buffett starts to change his behaviour. He starts giving money more liberally to his kids and grandkids, and announces early donations to charities and foundations (including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

During this period, Buffett also dealt with severe problems at Coke. Management had lost control. Profits were down, the stock was down, and scores of protesters were taking over the annual meeting, from unions who felt unfairly treated to environmental rights activists. Even Jesse Jackson attended to accuse the company of racism. Buffett has always looked for companies that were so strong that they could be managed by a ham sandwich. He mused after this latest episode at Coke that the company may no longer be around had it not been one such company.

Finally, the book ends with a description of Buffett's actions as the recession of 2007 onwards was taking place. A few years earlier, Buffett had warned about the potential perils of derivatives. Now, those derivatives were wreaking havoc on the global economy. Buffett was granted an opportunity to buy stocks that he had not seen for a long time.

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