Increasingly in recent years, Warren Buffett has made a practice of meeting with groups of students and speaking to them about various aspects of his business and his thoughts on various topics. Periodically, one of these students will write a blog post or a college newspaper article about their experience, and though I have read perhaps a half dozen of these, I continue to find interesting new tidibts in each new one. I guess they’re kind of like snowflakes.
In any event, Sarah, a Harvard undergraduate, writes about her visit at lifeatharvard.com. Though I’ve heard it before, I think Buffett’s unique definition of success bears repeating:
We talked about success â€“ real success. Buffett told a story about en elderly lady he met in Omaha, a Polish Jew who had spent years in a concentration camp during the Second World War. She told him, â€œWarren, I am very careful about making friends. When I meet a potential friend, I always ask myself: Would they hide me?â€
â€œIf you get to be 75, and have lots of people who would hide you, youâ€™re a success. Thatâ€™s really the test. You canâ€™t buy it.â€ He talked about the importance of awareness of how you treat other people and of thinking about the reverse of your actions. â€œI know people whose own kids wouldnâ€™t hide them, â€œBuffett said. â€œTheyâ€™d be yelling, â€œHeâ€™s in the attic! Heâ€™s in the attic!â€
I think this speaks to the essence of why so many people find Buffett worthy of study. It’s not merely that he has perhaps the greatest long-term track record of any investor, but that he has managed to do so without sacrificing his humanity. He has shown that success and ethical behavior are not mutually exclusive. And given the large number of recent counterexamples, our hope requires a Warren Buffett. After all, nobody aspires to be the next Jeffrey Skilling.