Warren Buffett on Success, Mistakes and Betting on America

EditorsNov 29, 2023

Warren Buffett on Success, Mistakes and Betting on America

The best quotes from the Oracle of Omaha and his right-hand man Charlie Munger from the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting.

Warren Buffett is seen playing bridge at Borsheims on Sunday. Seated across from him is master bridge player Sharon Osberg, while to her right (partially obscured) is Microsoft founder and longtime Buffett friend Bill Gates. The third gentleman at the table is another champion bridge player, Bob Hamman. (Photo credit: Borsheims)
Editor’s note: This story originally was published in May 2018 following the author’s trip to Omaha for Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders weekend. Charlie Munger died Tuesday at age 99.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the annual slate of events for Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders weekend, which included a few trips to (and interviews at) Berkshire-owned jewelry store Borsheims and the shareholders meeting itself, which took place Saturday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

The vast majority of the meeting consisted of Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett—who is by far the weekend’s biggest attraction—and his longtime business partner and friend Charlie Munger sitting on a stage constructed on the floor of the arena and answering shareholders’ questions.

They did this for six hours. Warren is 87, and Charlie is 94.

What follows are my favorite Buffett quotes from the Q&A portion of the meeting, along with a couple of zingers from Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Munger, who is known for plain-spoken one-liners.

On success: “Being successful at anything means having a passion for it.”  (In the interest of full disclosure, this first pearl of wisdom came from the short film shown before Buffett and Munger took the stage to begin the marathon Q&A session.)

On why he made certain investment decisions/mistakes: “In the early years, it’s very clear—the answer is stupidity.”

Buffett was self-effacing and a bit self-deprecating throughout the Q&A, remarking on his own “stupidity” multiple times.

This particular statement was made in response to the question, Why did Berkshire Hathaway never buy stock in Microsoft?

Early on in his career, Buffett admitted to making a mistake in passing up the software stock. Today, the company really can’t because of his close personal relationship with Bill Gates and the fact that Gates is on the Berkshire Hathaway board; Buffett said he wants to avoid any situations that could be misconstrued as insider trading.

(For all the Gates fans, yes, the Microsoft co-founder was in attendance at the shareholders meeting on Saturday, and he also was at Borsheims on Sunday afternoon playing bridge with Warren.)

“Both that and my stupidity have cost us a lot of money,” Buffett said.

On accepting mistakes made by others: “We [all] do a lot of dumb things in this world.”

The above quote came from a question submitted to and read aloud by New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

The questioner employed one of Buffett’s own quotes—“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”—to set the stage for a question about Wells Fargo.

Had Buffett and Munger ever considered dumping their shares in the bank considering all the “leaks” the bank has sprung, including the fake accounts scandal of 2016?

They basically said no.

Buffett noted that Wells Fargo’s actions were really no worse than those of the other big banks with which it competes, adding: “I like it as an investment. I like (CEO) Tim Sloan as a manager. He’s correcting mistakes made by other people.”

On managing a large staff: “You can’t have 377,000 employees and expect that everybody is behaving like Ben Franklin all the time.”

This tidbit also came out of Buffett’s answer to the Wells Fargo question.

Buffett used the employee count at this own company, Berkshire Hathaway, to make a point: when you run a big company (or even a small company), you’re going to have people who do things that are wrong, unethical or just not smart.

No manager, no matter how skilled, will ever be able to account for the actions and decisions of every single employee on a day-to-day basis. Entire companies shouldn’t necessarily be judged on the behavior of a few, or even more than a few, bad people.

Pearls of … Warren? Borsheims moves a lot of merchandise bearing Buffett’s signature during shareholders weekend, including strands of freshwater pearls with his script on the clasp.
Pearls of … Warren? Borsheims moves a lot of merchandise bearing Buffett’s signature during shareholders weekend, including strands of freshwater pearls with his script on the clasp.

On shrinking margins in one Berkshire Hathaway business, McLane: “That’s just become much more competitive. You look at our competitors, and they’re not making much money either. But that’s capitalism.”

McLane is a supply chain company that distributes food and other grocery items to convenience stores, mass merchants, drug stores and chain restaurants. I thought it was interesting to hear confirmation that the jewelry industry is not the only one struggling with margins today.

On what Berkshire Hathaway will look like 50 years from now: “The answer is, I don’t know, and I didn’t know 50 years ago what it would be like now.”

Even the Oracle of Omaha’s ability to prognosticate is limited.

On the United States: “Through it all, in fits and starts, America really moves ahead … This is a remarkable, remarkable country. I’d love to be a baby being born today.”

Buffett remarked on his belief in the U.S.—and his belief the country’s economy will continue to grow—several times over the course of the afternoon.

This particular quote came in response to the question, Is America more divided today than it was 50 years ago, or does social media just make it seem that way?

Buffett’s lived through his share of presidents, political situations and media coverage of both. I don’t think he directly answered the question with a “yes” or a “no” but, basically, he said the country will continue to progress and grow.

Munger wrapped up the answer to the question about the constant bickering today about this Democrat or that Republican with this reminder: “We tend to forget how awful our politicians were in the past.”

On Buffett’s special talent: “Warren is very good at doing nothing.” -- Charlie Munger

In case you were wondering about the habits of one highly successful person, Buffett said he spends five to six hours a day reading, and he also likes to just sit and think.

It reminded me of Pat Henneberry’s column on the importance of downtime in leading a happier, healthier and more creative life.

The Latest

Indian actress Saiyami Kher celebration sapphires
SourcingFeb 27, 2024
Fura’s New Sapphire Jewelry Is Traceable to the Source

The gemstone mining company’s “Celebration Sapphires” collection has launched in India.

National Jeweler columnist Lilian Raji
ColumnistsFeb 27, 2024
The PR Adviser: Leveraging Those Early Victories

Lilian Raji offers advice to a “small brand with big dreams” that is unsure of what its next step should be.

Sotheby’s MoonSwatch Suitcase auction
AuctionsFeb 27, 2024
Sotheby’s MoonSwatch Suitcases Sell for Over $600K

The auction house sold all 11 “MoonSwatch Moonshine Gold” suitcases, donating the proceeds to eye care nonprofit Orbis International.

GIA id100
Brought to you by
Full Disclosure at Your Fingertips

Distinguishing natural diamonds from laboratory-grown stones – now more available than ever – has been difficult for jewelers. Until now.

Nikia Levesque
MajorsFeb 27, 2024
Nikia Levesque Joins WJA Board as Foundation VP

The association also announced five new board members.

Weekly QuizFeb 22, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this short test.
Take the Quiz
Matteo Farsura Italian Exhibition Group
Events & AwardsFeb 27, 2024
IEG Names New Exhibition Manager for Jewelry, Fashion Division

Matteo Farsura, former exhibition manager of Vicenzaoro, will oversee the Italian Exhibition Group’s various jewelry and fashion shows.

Lightbox lab grown diamond pendant in yellow gold
Lab-GrownFeb 26, 2024
Lightbox ‘Significantly’ Lowered Its Prices in Q4

The De Beers-owned lab-grown diamond company dropped the price on its standard offerings from $800/carat to $600/carat.

flashforge pic.png
Brought to you by
WaxJet: Revolution in Jewelry Manufacturing

The WaxJet 400, recognized as the world's fastest wax printer, is bringing in a new era of precision and efficiency to industry.

JA New York signs
Events & AwardsFeb 26, 2024
JA New York to Bring the Diamond District to Spring Show

The upcoming show will have an immersive “47th Street Experience” for attendees.

GIA Dubai laboratory
GradingFeb 26, 2024
GIA Opens Lab in Dubai

The new DMCC Laboratory at Uptown Tower will initially serve clients in Dubai free trade zones.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36 with affirmations
WatchesFeb 23, 2024
Rolex to Open New Watchmaking School in Dallas

The Rolex Watchmaking Training Center will welcome its first class this fall.

Guzema Freedom heart pendant for Ukraine
CollectionsFeb 23, 2024
Piece of the Week: Guzema’s ‘Freedom’ for Ukraine Pendant

Ukrainian jewelry designer Valeriya Guzema’s charitable “Freedom” collection is inspired by hope for the country’s future.

Elton John’s leopard print Rolex Daytona watch
AuctionsFeb 22, 2024
Elton John’s Leopard-Print Rolex Roars at Auction

Two Cartier watches also topped their estimates at Christie’s “The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road” evening sale.

Buccellati header
TrendsFeb 22, 2024
Buccellati to Open ‘Prince of Goldsmiths’ Exhibition

Set to be held in Venice, it’s a look through the maison’s history.

813-carat “Constellation” diamond in rough form
SourcingFeb 22, 2024
Lucara, HB Group Partnership Revived

It is another 10-year sales agreement in which all the larger rough recovered from the Karowe mine will go to HB Group for manufacturing.

Sebastian Clarke and Katherine van Dell of Heritage Auctions
AuctionsFeb 22, 2024
Heritage Auctions Adds 2 New Hires to West Palm Beach Office

Sebastian Clarke and Katherine van Dell, frequent appraisers on “Antiques Roadshow,” will join the new office.

National Jeweler columnist Sherry Smith
ColumnistsFeb 21, 2024
On Data: January Was a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Jewelers

Sherry Smith dishes on the month’s highs and lows and the two categories consumers were loving ahead of Valentine’s Day.

Stock image of diamonds
GradingFeb 21, 2024
GIA’s Same-Day Service Now Available Everywhere

The new service, introduced to stem fraud related to lab-grown diamonds, will be offered at no cost for the time being.

Jam + Rico Claire’s jewelry
CollectionsFeb 21, 2024
Jam + Rico Debuts Second Claire’s Collection

Founder Lisette Scott was inspired by the intricacy, colors, and symbolism of African art and architecture.

Rapaport logo
SourcingFeb 21, 2024
Rapaport to Hold Another Natural Pearl Auction

Viewings start this week in New York and bidding will close on March 8.

National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith
ColumnistsFeb 20, 2024
Squirrel Spotting: Life After Rolex

Peter Smith shares advice from independent jewelers who used losing this cornerstone brand as a catalyst for reinvention.

Neile Adams McQueen and Steve McQueen
AuctionsFeb 20, 2024
Jewels from Neile Adams McQueen Shine at Bonhams

All 13 lots belonging to the actress and first wife of Steve McQueen sold at the recent “California Jewels” sale.

Stuller bench jeweler
Events & AwardsFeb 20, 2024
Stuller to Host Bench Jeweler Workshop in March

Registration is also open for its “Battle of the Benches” challenge.

Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers
IndependentsFeb 16, 2024
Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers Dies at 99

Gorman was an industry trailblazer, serving as the first female treasurer of Jewelers of America.

Jade Ruzzo gold and diamond Tennessee Torque necklace
CollectionsFeb 16, 2024
Piece of the Week: Jade Ruzzo’s Tribute to Tennessee

The movement of the 18-karat gold and diamond “Tennessee Torque” necklace is subtle.

Jared Goff and Claudia Cividino
MajorsFeb 15, 2024
Detroit Lions’ QB Jared Goff Going to Jared

Goff, whose fans hold up “He Went to Jared” signs at games, has signed a partnership with the retailer.

De Beers Venetia diamond mine
SourcingFeb 15, 2024
De Beers’ Production Down 8% in 2023

The company recovered 31.9 million carats of diamonds in 2023, compared with 34.6 million in 2022.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy