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Warren Buffett tells it the way he sees it

August 1, 2009
Messenger News

The Oracle of Omaha shared his counsel with the masses in Des Moines this week.

And it seems fair to say that the masses were charmed.

Warren Buffett talked to an invitation-only crowd - estimated at 2,000 - Thursday night at Homemakers Furniture's new megastore in Urbandale. He was also on hand Friday for the ribbon cutting at Iowa's largest furniture store.

Landing one of the world's richest men for a furniture store opening is easier when the store - Homemakers - is owned by Nebraska Furniture Mart, which was purchased by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in 2000.

Getting on the guest list meant you had to be an employee, family member, politician, vendor, honest-to-goodness dignitary or - lucky me - a selected member of the media.

Buffett's prepared remarks were interesting, informative and entertaining. But the best part of the night was the open forum where Buffett took questions from the audience - any question from anyone.

Nothing was off limits. He was at ease, and he put the audience at ease. Completely unintimidating, he could have been anybody's grandpa, dressed in his Sunday suit - albeit an extremely well-tailored, expensive suit - talking to his family.

He responded to what a man's 16-year-old should do with $1,000 she wants invest tomorrow. ("Buy equities over time.") He replied to another's query about when the residential housing market might pull out of its doldrums nationwide. ("It's better in Iowa than in most places ... 18 months overall.") He even answered a woman who asked what it was like to work with soap opera stalwart Susan Lucci on "All My Children." ("It's just like you think.")

Here are a few other snippets from Buffett's Q-and-A session.

"If you own part of America and you don't do it at a silly price, and you just keeping putting money in regularly over time, you're going to do well. You're not going to do brilliantly. You're not going to do as well as those people who come on CNBC and tell you how smart they are while they keep riding the subway to work every morning. You will do well if you have a broad section of American business bought consistently over time."

When asked about his feelings on the cap-and-trade bill: "I do know we ought to start reducing the carbon emissions into the atmosphere today. ... I don't think we should tie it to the Chinese doing it or anything of the sort. We are the ones who have been the greatest sinners over time. We led the world into this. I think we should lead the world out of it."

"Investors throughout time and forever more will be affected by waves of optimism and waves of pessimism," Buffett said, "And, those waves are very contagious ... if you've been around a while, it helps you because you've seen the movie before. In terms of the sectors, the main thing to do is just to stick with businesses and industries that you understand ... buy it only when you think it offers demonstrative good value, and you will make a lot of money over time."

"If you have a passion for something, you are going to do well." Buffett said when he works with student groups, he tells them to go to work for whatever company's management they admire most. A Harvard dean called him once to find out what Buffett was telling the students. "That explains it," the dean replied. "They're all becoming self-employed."

"It's always a good time to start a business, in my view, that you're passionate about. And the biggest thing to do is invest in yourself. That's the one investment that can't be taxed away or anything else. Everybody in this room, including me - all of us - has more potential than what we've achieved ... anything that improves your own abilities pays off time and time again."

Buffett used to despise public speaking, so he decided to enroll in a Dale Carnegie course. He wrote a check for $100, then went home and stopped payment on the check. "The second time I did it, I handed him a hundred dollars in cash. You know me, if I hand somebody a hundred dollars in cash, I'm going to show up, no matter what - and it changed my life in a big way."

On why he still lives in Omaha, Buffett - who has lived in the same house for 50 years and occupied the same office since 1962, said, "I set out in life to do things that made me happy, and once I found them, I didn't trade them in for something else."

"They say success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get."

Barbara Wallace Hughes is the managing editor of The Messenger.



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