Thursday, February 21, 2008

Q and A with Warren

Because UC Davis had many more students than NYU Warren decided to invite our students to ask two questions, and then one for NYU. Jamie Kitano, a UC Davis joint MBA-Law student asked the first question:

“What are MBA students today lacking? What do we need to do to raise the bar on our educations?”

Warren answered by saying what he thinks are the most critical skills that managers need today. First, everyone should have a good understanding of accounting. “Accounting is the language of business.” He said that he knew some very bright CEOs who faked it, but a thorough understanding of accounting measures and practices is critical to success.

Secondly, every successful business person should be able to communicate well in writing and verbally. “If you aren’t confident in communicating you will be at a terrible disadvantage.”

Then Warren dropped back to tell a story that one could tell was a favorite. “A Dale Carnegie course changed my life. I have the diploma in my office – but not my undergraduate or graduate degrees.” He was so afraid of speaking that the first time he applied for the course he cancelled his check. The second time he paid in cash because he knew that then he would attend. Warren attributed the Dale Carnegie communication course with giving him the courage to propose to his wife Susie, a pivotal act in his life. He then admonished the students to stay in school until they were confident in their ability to communicate “both ways.” I was glad that we had just asked Dan Kennedy to teach more communications classes for us next year. I now feel pretty sure they will be full.

Is he worried about recession? No. “I don’t worry about it either way.” The students would likely be through “eight or ten in your lifetimes.”

And on and on. More wisdom told in charming and funny ways, often filled with numbers and facts that he pulled out of his vast store of knowledge. Perhaps the most interesting lecturette came in response to a question about the aftermath of the election. How would he advise the new president in January 2009?

“Change the tax code! We spend 20% of GDP to run the country, and we raise 18.5%. The real question is ‘Who do we get it from’?” Warren paid 17% tax on his $46 million taxable income last year and doesn’t use a tax advisor. He mentioned that his employees, whose incomes are primarily from wages, paid an average of 33% when his contribution as an employer paying payroll taxes is added in. So he pays half what his employees pay and doesn’t need an advisor. “The U.S. Congress takes care of me. They treat me like the California Condor or the Spotted Owl. ‘Let’s take care of Warren.’ [and keep his tax rate low]”. According to Buffett individuals contribute $2.1 trillion in taxes when payroll taxes are included. “The super rich are being favored.”

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