Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lessons from the Oracle

Warren went from one side of the room to the other listening to questions and returning answers. It was bit like watching a tennis match. One always wondered what the next question would reveal: a soft lob, a politically-pointed serve, a net ball requiring fast footwork?

This one was a soft lob: What was the most important year of his life? “The year I married my wife, Susie. She was 19 – I had to get her young.”

Warren said he had won “the ovarian lottery” by having been born in 1930 in the U.S. “There was a 50 to one chance of that” fortunate situation. “And I was born with a mind wired for capital allocation” Moreover his parents loved him so he considered himself, very, very lucky. He quoted Bertrand Russell, “Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.” Warren is a happy man.

How about a political opinion? Warren is a lifelong Democrat and supports both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. He loves both of them, and recently he met with them separately. “You don’t put two people you love in the same room.”

Were there any difficult questions? Well, not really, as Warren Buffett is incredibly well-informed, a practiced story-teller, and very, very bright. But the NYU students kept asking very detailed financial questions about financial derivatives, sovereign funds, and “p.e.” which is private equity. They were showing off for Warren, and maybe for themselves.

The Davis students, who take finance from the same-caliber professors as the NYU students, were much more interested in big-picture questions such as his philosophy about philanthropy and his judgments about life. The difference between the two groups of questions was striking – neither better, but reflecting different school cultures I suspect. The Stern school is preparing their students well for positions on Wall Street while the UC Davis GSM focuses on developing the broad perspectives and tools needed in a changing economy and community.

No comments: