How to Learn About Business – The Warren Buffett Edition

Audience: If you were 23 years old, in what non-tech industry would you start a business today and why?

Buffett: I would probably do what I did when I was 23 years old. I would look at a lot of companies and talk to many people, and learn about lots of industries. I would see CEO’s of 8 or 10 coal companies. I frequently did not make appointments, but they would always see me. I would ask them if they had to put all of their money in any coal company except their own, and go away for 10 years, which one would it be? Also, I would ask which would they short over 10 years and why? If I did that I would know more about the coal companies than any manager would. But you wouldn’t learn about how to start Google or Facebook that way. You might find an industry that particularly interested you and you can start or go to work for someone good.

Munger: There was a trick Larry Bird used. He asked every agent why he should be selected to represent him, and which agent to use if Larry didn’t pick him as his agent. Everyone listed the same guy as #2, so he went with everyone’s #2 and he negotiated the best deal in history.

Buffett: I did the same thing at Salomon. On the weekend when Tokyo was opening Sunday at 6 p.m., I called in 8 people and I asked them who besides you would be the best person to run Salomon. You really learn a lot by asking. If you talk to enough people about something they know a lot about, you will learn a lot.

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