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138 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Insight into an Enigma!, September 29, 2008
This review is from: The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (Hardcover)
The title of this book refers to Buffett's likening life to a snowball - "the important thing is to find wet snow and a really long hill." Buffett certainly has had that effect with money.

"The Snowball" begins with a Buffett presentation to an elite 1999 group at Sun Valley, suggesting in a humorous manner that the ".com" frenzy was no more than a bubble. Then, its on to learning why his associate Charles Munger (an inseparable partner since 1959) is both the opposite and highly similar to Buffett.

Warren Buffett, we learn comes from a heritage of very thrifty small business owners. His parents initially struggled through the Great Depression, carried initially by grandfather's letting the food bill run at his grocery store, then by the success of his newly opened stock brokerage that focused on conservative investments. Unfortunately, his mother was somewhat unbalanced, directing frequent tirades at Warren and his sister, creating a lifelong need for the approval of women. Calculating the comparative life spans of religious song writers while in church led Warren towards religious skepticism at an early age.

Armed with his father's nostrums and examples, his early business experiences (selling gum, pop, magazines, refurbished golf balls, delivering papers) and stock investment (sold too early, losing most of his potential profit), learning that he didn't like physical work (helping his father and grandfather), an early meeting with the head of Goldman Sachs (Buffett just pumped $5 billion into the firm), and knowledge from Benjamin Graham at Columbia Business School (Harvard turned him down), he went on to become the richest man in the world (had $5,000 by the time he finished high school - equivalent to $53,000 today) in a series of interesting stories within "The Snowball."

Buffett learned a number of important lessons en route to becoming the richest man in the world. 1)Commitments are so sacred that they should be rare; allies are important; grandstanding rarely gets anything done. 2)Customer loyalty is valuable (bought a gas station across from one with established clientele - never did well). 3)GEICO had a sustainable competitive model - lowest costs, protected by limiting clientele to government workers (more likely to be responsible), ability to invest funds prior to use. 4)Looking at management, ability to maintain sales growth (Charlie Munger) are important in addition to financial data emphasis (Benjamin Graham). (This was an important change because the number of statistical bargains had shrunk to virtually nil and tended to be small companies which did not work when large sums of money were involved.) 5)Public often overreacted - eg. American Express hit by Kennedy Assassination + DeAngelis soybean scandal at same time = good opportunity. 6)Diversification was not a good thing, as long as investment analysis had a high probability of correctness and low probability of drastic change. 7)Corollary of #6 was ruling out investing in complex technology or human problems (eg. strike, layoffs, plant closings).
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