The Greatest Investor Who Ever Lived

“A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything."

Ecclesiastes 10:19

Who is the greatest investor¹ who ever lived?  

Well, the arbiters of money can certainly discuss the question: George Soros, Jim Simons, Peter Lynch, and Seth Klarman come to mind. But the correct answer (with the possible exception of J.P. Morgan, Sr.) is Warren Buffett

After reviewing the performance of my portfolio in 2022, I realized that while -9% was better than the S&P 500's -18%, it was still nothing to write home about. Past history made me realize that walking in the footsteps of the Oracle of Omaha would be a more effective way to improve my 2023 results, than reading the great books on investing, buying dividend stocks, or spending even more time analyzing potential investments.   

Prior to my pilgrimage to Omaha, I re-read The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life², in an effort to understand the man, his investing techniques, and most importantly his haunts (and eating habits). The details of my pilgrimage can be perused here, but they only confirmed what I learned in the book: investment riches cannot be obtained by reading a book.

Buffett was originally an acolyte of Benjamin Graham, the co-author of perhaps the greatest investing book of all time, Security Analysis.  This humbly titled tome, espoused the Grahamesque investment philosophy of buying cigar buts, stock in companies that are worth more dead than alive enabling the investor to get one last puff prior to being discarded. Buffett then graduated to his own philosophy  (heavily influenced by fellow traveler and friend Charlie Munger) of buying undervalued companies with strong potential for growth and investing in them for the long term.  Companies with a durable competitive advantage, such as a strong brand, high barriers to entry, or a large and loyal customer base,  and buying in at a price that provides a margin of safety.

While reading about these techniques and Buffett's investment success may help make you become a better investor, the road to investment riches is not that simple. One reason is that you will still not be Warren Buffett and have all of his personal foibles, peculiarities, and eccentricities.  Quite simply Buffett's investing success must be at least partially attributed to his idiosyncratic personality:

All these traits made the man the investor he is today. I don't think you can take the investing style out of the man, they are intertwined like the two polynucleotide chains that coil around each other, and that literally form his DNA. He is quite simply an unstoppable machine, much like the Terminator. If the devil made me a bargain to accept all of these "traits," to become the greatest investor who ever lived, I don't think I would accept (though if I only had to accept a few of them . . .).  

Part of the Buffett "charm" is to take guests who have traveled all the way to Omaha to "kiss his ring" to visit a . . . candy store, specifically Hollywood Candy in the Old Market neighborhood.  It's well over 10,000 sq. ft. of candy, old records, pinball machines, old signage, memorabilia, and other symbols of a bygone time.  

It may have something to do with Buffett's aforementioned love of candy or his desire to live in the past. I though think it has more to do with Buffett taking his guests where he wants to go (and not necessarily where they want to).   

 Hollywood Candy (author on right)

As I stood in the Oracle's footsteps reviewing shelf after shelf of candy, much of which I have not eaten since I was eight, I realized doing only what you want to do . . . all day . . . every day . . .  may just be the secret to success.   

Feb 15 23, 2023


¹ Note that I said "investor." Buffett is not a "stock picker," as a large portion of Berkshire Hathaway's investments are in wholly-owned companies like GEICO, General Re, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Nevada Power Company, Precision Castparts, Lubrizol, Benjamin Moore, and Fruit of the Loom. In fact, the investment research company Value Line categorizes Berkshire Hathaway as an insurance company. 

² The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder is one of the better biographies I've ever read. Made all the more remarkable as it's the only book she's ever written. 

"Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."

Warren Buffett

A sample of what Buffett's guests get to see when visiting Omaha