Honor Your Own Obituary
She was kind and loved. Faced with the choice of taking the right path or the easy one, she always chose the right one. Her inner compass was firmly focused on integrity.
This obituary is fictional, but suggests a happy, full life. A simple yet powerful piece of advice from U.S. investor Warren Buffett, major shareholder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is that we should all write our own obituary. After that, all we must do is live up to it.
Many interested people - and there were tens of thousands - came to his annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. And not only to learn more about Berkshire and investing, but also because of the life wisdom of Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger.
I was there live at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual General Meeting. You can read my reports on the Gutmann website: BRK 2023
Tom Murphy was an important business partner and friend of Warren Buffett. In 1985, he took over the much larger ABC for $3.5 billion as CEO of Capital Cities Communications. Berkshire Hathaway helped finance it, buying 18% of Cap Cities stock. Then, just 10 years later, Murphy resold the company to the Walt Disney Company for $19 billion in 1996.
The connection between Buffett and Murphy continued until he passed away in 2022. Murphy was a longtime Berkshire Hathaway board member, and when he stepped down last year at age 96, his investment in Berkshire stock was worth $370 million.
At the first meeting with Buffett, Tom Murphy explained two of his principles to him:
1. You can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.
2. Praise by name, criticize by category.
This advice is even more important to us in the age of email and social media. In a few seconds, you give in to the impulse to wish someone to hell or criticize them, and you can never delete it. Better to think again and keep the option open.
Warren Buffett remarked that he had not known a kind and loving person who died without friends. He did, however, know many rich people who died without friends. He watched Tom Murphy for over 50 years and never once did he see him do an unkind act. That was part of the reason the two worked so well together for decades.
Ethically correct and successful
Again and again, I meet people who, in view of Warren Buffett's economic success, think that unethical behavior and taking advantage of others must have been important factors. Exactly the opposite is the case! His strict ethical behavior has been his lifelong competitive advantage.
I got in line as early as 4 a.m. to get a good seat for the shareholders' meeting (and rest assured, I didn't get there too early). It is Buffett's integrity that always makes people from all over the world pilgrimage to Omaha and listen to his words for hours.
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