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An Abundance of Eloquent Insights
on May 29, 2008
Great journalists are renowned for "getting the story" and then telling it well because they are gifted raconteurs whose keen analytical minds focus on who and what are most interesting as well as most significant. They suggest implications that help their readers (and viewers) to gain a greater understanding of what the "story" means. In recent years, my favorite journalists include Ken Auletta, Elizabeth Drew, Thomas Friedman, Hendrick Hertzberg, Jeffrey Toobin...and Joe Nocera. For almost thirty years, Nocera has written articles for a wide range of publications that include The New York Times (for which he writes a Saturday column, "Talking Business") and its Sunday magazine as well Esquire, GQ, Fortune, Money, Slate, and Texas Monthly. What we have in this volume is a collection of articles about various "good guys & bad guys," written over a period from 1982 until 2007.
He divides his material within 14 chapters. The articles of special interest to me are these:
Two articles about Boone Pickens, "It's Time to Make a Deal" in Chapter 1 and "Return of the Raider" in Chapter 14, that serve as "book ends" to all the other articles in between
His profile of Steve Jobs ("Jobs Agonistes") in Chapter 2
His analysis of Charlie Merrill and his dysfunctional relations with members of his family, especially his sons
His profile of Warren Buffett ("Saint Warren of Omaha") in Chapter 8
His explanation of "our love-hate relations with Wal-Mart" in Chapter 13
Obviously, other readers will have different favorites among the 26 articles assembled in this volume. However different the subjects and circumstances may be, however, all of them are exceptionally well-written, informative, and (more often that not) highly entertaining.
Here in Dallas, we have a Farmers Market area near downtown at which several vendors eagerly offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that same spirit, I now offer a sequence of three brief excerpts from the profile of Warren Buffett with the hope that they provide at least a "taste" of Nocera's style and perspective.
Why doesn't everyone invest the way Buffett does and, therefore, achieve the same results?
"I think the answer is twofold. First, truly great investing requires a temperament that very few people have. For most of us, it is difficult not to panic when the market tanks, for instance. It is hard not to want to jump on the hot stock, even if we know nothing about the business. The ups and downs of the market are stomach-churning events. The fundamental equanimity required to be a great investor is an extremely rare thing."
"The second reason we don't invest like Buffett is that his methods are far more complicated than they sound. Think about it: When Buffett talks about the `economic prospects' of a potential investment, what he means is that he wants to be able to see where the business will be 10 years from now. If he can see the business remaining dominant for the next decade, he'll consider buying the stock."
"One of the most important reasons for difference [i.e. being able to determine whether or not a business will remain dominant for the next decade] goes almost entirely unacknowledged among those who hope to find in Buffett an easily reproducible investing style. He is a genius when it comes to numbers. `Accounting,' he likes to say,' is the language of business.' It is a language in which his own fluency is unsurpassed, and which gives him an enormous competitive advantage. Usually, all he needs is a quick glance at a balance sheet to know whether he's interested in buying a company or not - because he finds meaning in numbers that the rest of us don't."
I envy those who have read only a few (if any) of the articles (including his Times columns) that Nocera has written for almost 30 years. Now in this single volume, they have some of his best...thus far.