The world lost an investing icon, today.
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's right-hand man and the vice-chairman of investment conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, has died aged 99.
A billionaire, polymath, philanthropist, and teacher, Munger was a lawyer by training and an investor by choice and passion.
Making a fortune initially in real estate, he struck up a rapport with his fellow Nebraskan, Buffett, after being introduced by friends. Alike in style and substance, Munger was nevertheless the more taciturn and acerbic of the two – his withering one-liners and unvarnished critiques are the stuff of legend.
Not that Munger was a snark, or a whiner. And he didn't seek to bring others down to lift himself up. His infamous "I have nothing to add" responses at the Berkshire annual meeting (I own shares, and was lucky enough to attend on a few occasions) are the stuff of legend, and indicative of his tendency to only speak when he thought he could improve on the silence.
And while Buffett was clearly the senior partner in the relationship, he did little without Munger's approval and agreement, such was the esteem in which the (slightly) younger man held his partner.
Munger was a Republican. Buffett is a Democrat. But the overlap in the 'sensible centre' is probably the most remarkable part of their public partnership. Both men have eschewed the extremes, excesses, silliness, and poor behaviour of both politics and business alike.
I have no doubt that Munger would want to be remembered for his teaching – his plain speaking, no-nonsense imparting of what I think he'd have considered 'informed common sense'.
I am a far better investor for Munger's teaching. And whether you've heard or read him – or even know of him at all – it's a fair bet that we've all been impacted by his influence, directly or otherwise.
I was lucky to meet him, briefly, some 15 or 16 years ago, and to have him sign some memorabilia. But luckier to have been able to learn from the man through his decades of freely shared life — and investing — wisdom.
Perhaps, then, the best way to conclude a tribute is to share a selection of some of Charlie's own words.
"People calculate too much and think too little."
"A lot of people with high IQs are terrible investors because they've got terrible temperaments. And that is why we say that having a certain kind of temperament is more important than brains. You need to keep raw irrational emotion under control. You need patience and discipline and an ability to take losses and adversity without going crazy. You need an ability to not be driven crazy by extreme success."
"Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Day by day, and at the end of the day — if you live long enough — like most people, you will get out of life what you deserve."
"In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time — none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads — and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out."
"We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side."
"I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don't believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody's that smart."
"You don't have to be brilliant, only a little bit wiser than the other guys, on average, for a long, long time."
"I try to get rid of people who confidently answer questions about which they don't have any real knowledge."
"Those of us who have been fortunate have a duty to give back."
"No man is fit to hold office who isn't perfectly willing to leave it at any time"
"When you borrow a man's car, always return it with a tank of gas."
"Wall Street has too much wealth and political power."
"Always take the high road, it's far less crowded."
He was a man of intellect, rationality and principle. A sorely lacking combination, too often. And we were fortunate that he gave us that public example.
If I can make one recommendation, today, it's that you should read a book of his thoughts called "Poor Charlie's Almanack" – it is a wonderful read, full of common sense, and it'll help you become both a better investor and, I think, a better person.
Vale, Charlie Munger. We will not see his like again.