BOOKS: The Sage's Secret - Buffett seems to know the right stuff when he sees it. Stefan Stern discovers his methods

BOOKS: The Sage's Secret - Buffett seems to know the right stuff when he sees it. Stefan Stern discovers his methods - The Warren Buffett CEO; By Robert Miles; John Wiley Publishing; pounds 17.95

by STEFAN STERN
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Warren Buffett CEO; By Robert Miles; John Wiley Publishing; pounds 17.95

Have you got what it takes to succeed as a business leader? If you have, Warren will be getting in touch soon. At least, you might presume so after reading Robert Miles' new book. It implies that talent rarely avoids Buffett's scrutiny.

Miles offers portraits of nearly two dozen CEOs who are running Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway-owned businesses, based on interviews with all of them and unprecedented access to the Buffett operation. And you know what? They're just a bunch of regular guys working 100 hours a week and aiming to put off retirement till they're 90.

The author, an investor in Berkshire Hathaway stock himself, has run the sliderule over the personalities and attributes of the CEOs and businesses that Warren Buffett has invested in. Anyone with an inferiority complex better not pick the book up.

From insurance to executive jets to furniture and jewellery, Buffett ('the sage of Omaha') picks winning businesses and sticks with them. When he likes the look of an enterprise he offers to buy it, letting the existing management continue the good work. Berkshire invests in enthusiasts, good communicators and people managers who love their job and perform brilliantly.

Buffett likes owner-managers, who are usually so well off that they don't need to work but are so committed to their businesses that they will continue well past retirement age. And he invests steadily. 'In the search, we adopt the same attitude one might find appropriate in looking for a spouse: it pays to be active, interested and open-minded, but it does not pay to be in a hurry,' he has said.

The CEOs interviewed for the book are consistent in their admiration of Buffett as a mentor and guide, and uniformly generous in their description of how Berkshire Hathaway came to own their businesses. Buffett is direct and honest. He offers a fair price and leaves well alone once the deal is done. It is all about pleasing and keeping customers and growing market share.

Before the dot.com 'correction', a lot of younger market-watchers felt the sage no longer knew his onions, that he'd missed out on the biggest one-way bet in stock market history. But in his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway stock-holders, he announced his renewed commitment to exhilarating investment plays such as carpets and bricks. 'Try to contain your excitement,' he advised.

Buffett's simple virtues and principles have stood the test of time, as have his CEOs. Miles' book suggests that the sage and friends will have the last laugh.

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