This is THE book that tells the life and time of one of the world's most respected men, Warren Buffett. The legendary Omaha investor has never written from memory, but now he has given a writer, Alice Schroeder, unprecedented access, directly with him and with those close to him, his work, his opinions, his struggles, his triumphs to explore wisdom. The result is the personally insightful and comprehensive biography of the man widely known as "The Oracle of Omaha".
Despite being constantly followed by the media, Buffett himself never told the full story in his life. His reality is private, especially by celebrity standards. In fact, while the homemade character that the audience sees is right as far as it goes, it only goes as far. Warren Buffett is a series of paradoxes. He wanted to prove that nice guys can finish first. Over the years he has treated his investors as partners, acted as their administrators and advocated honesty as an investor, CEO, board member, essayist and speaker. At the same time, he became the richest man in the world, all from the humble Omaha headquarters of his Berkshire Hathaway company. None of this fits the term "simple".
When Alice Schroeder met Warren Buffett, she was an insurance analyst and gifted writer, known for her insight and business acumen. Her writings on finance impressed her, and when she first met him she found that while much had been written about her investment style, no one had gone beyond to explore his broader philosophy, which has a complex personality. and details of his life. From there came his decision to collaborate with her on the book about himself that he would never write.
Buffett had never before spent countless hours answering a writer's questions, speaking, giving full access to his wife, children, friends, and co-workers, opening his files, and remembering his childhood. It was an act of courage, as The Snowball shows very clearly. As a person, his own life, like most lives, was a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. But as remarkable as his fortune is, Buffett's legacy will not be his place on the wealth sheet; it will be his principles and his ideas that have enriched people's lives. This book explains why Warren Buffett is the most fascinating American success story of our time.
Warren Buffett rocks back in his chair, long legs crossed at the knee behind his father Howard’s plain wooden desk. His expensive Zegna suit jacket bunches around his shoulders like an untailored version bought off the rack. The jacket stays on all day, every day, no matter how casually the other fifteen employees at Berkshire Hathaway headquarters are dressed. His predictable white shirt sits low on the neck, its undersize collar bulging away from his tie, looking left over from his days as a young businessman, as if he had forgotten to check his neck size for the last forty years.
His hands lace behind his head through strands of whitening hair. One particularly large and messy finger- combed chunk takes off over his skull like a ski jump, lofting upward at the knoll of his right ear. His shaggy right eyebrow wanders toward it above the tortoiseshell glasses. At various times this eyebrow gives him a skeptical, knowing, or beguiling look. Right now he wears a subtle smile, which lends the wayward eyebrow a captivating air. Nonetheless, his pale-blue eyes are focused and intent.
He sits surrounded by icons and mementos of fifty years. In the hallways outside his office, Nebraska Cornhuskers football photographs, his paycheck from an appearance on a soap opera, the offer letter (never accepted) to buy a hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management, and Coca-Cola memorabilia everywhere. On the coffee table inside the office, a classic Coca-Cola bottle. A baseball glove encased in Lucite. Over the sofa, a certificate that he completed Dale Carnegie’s public-speaking course in January 1952. The Wells Fargo stagecoach, westbound atop a bookcase. A Pulitzer Prize, won in 1973 by the Sun Newspapers of Omaha, which his investment partnership owned. Scattered about the room are books and newspapers. Photographs of his family and friends cover the credenza and a side table, and sit under the hutch beside his desk in place of a computer. A large portrait of his father hangs above Buffett’s head on the wall behind his desk. It faces every visitor who enters the room.
Although a late-spring Omaha morning beckons outside the windows, the brown wooden shutters are closed to block the view. The television beaming toward his desk is tuned to CNBC. The sound is muted, but the crawl at the bottom of the screen feeds him news all day long. Over the years, to his pleasure, the news has often been about him.
Only a few people, however, actually know him well. I have been acquainted with him for six years, originally as a financial analyst covering Berkshire Hathaway stock. Over time our relationship has turned friendly, and now I will get to know him better still. We are sitting in Warren’s office because he is not going to write a book. The unruly eyebrows punctuate his words as he says repeatedly, “You’ll do a better job than I would, Alice. I’m glad you’re writing this book, not me.” Why he would say that is something that will eventually become clear. In the meantime, we start with the matter closest to his heart.
Ms. Schroeder was born in Texas and received a bachelor's degree and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin before moving east to work in finance. She is a former CPA and lives in Connecticut with her husband.
Alice Schroeder was a well-known insurance industry analyst and writer who served as Managing Director of Morgan Stanley. She first met Warren Buffett while researching Berkshire Hathaway; Her understanding of the subject and her insight impressed her so much that it gave her access to her files and to herself. Their friendship and mutual respect make them ideally placed to write the snowball.
This book covers the life of Warren Buffett, including many personal details about his childhood and early career. This book would be ideal for someone who wants to understand how Warren made his billions. The author is a former analyst of insurance stocks, so he is very good at explaining many of his financial decisions and principles. Not only does he examine his many talents and accomplishments, but he also examines his weaknesses and flaws.
Overall, the book is ideal for showing Warren's "whole" from a professional and personal perspective and for analyzing the interplay between the two sides of his life. For me, reading this book has been a fascinating glimpse into the life of a modern entrepreneur.
Great stories from an impressive investment life. The story captures Mr. Buffett's charm, but makes it clear that he is an incredibly intelligent and determined man (he had already adjusted 40,000 for inflation by the time he went out of business as a paper supplier and golf ball seller). I think normal people can apply his financial principles, but far from his success. Book goes through major investments and life developments and makes Warren and his staff think about the developments.
This very morning I heard Clark Howard say that US debt was at an all time high. Think about it !!!
Financial literacy begins with listening to Warren Buffett and Clark Howard. If you don't own this book, buy the used (well, duh) hardcover on Amazon, listen to Clark, be careful, and stop making excuses for yourself. Just because our governments are desperately in debt doesn't mean we need to be there as individuals.
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the persistence, dedication, and hard work it takes to be successful in anything. The buffet is complex and simple, mundane and down to earth, praised and humble.
Alice has written an extraordinarily remarkable book: For the first time, we have a historical record of Buffett's career, working with him, as well as those close to him. The book masterfully treats Buffett by placing his saga in a proper historical context. For students of the world's largest investor, this is a godsend and hugely complements existing literature. You will get so much that for the price of the book you will be paid to read it.
One of the best features of the book is the amount of detail it offers about many of Buffett's investments. You've heard from a bird's-eye view (and by reading the existing stories as well as his letters to investors) that he bought some stock in the Washington Post and became a ten-year-old multi-digger for Berkshire. The reality is much more complicated. Buffett founded Kay Graham as a seasoned capital allocator and was (literally) practically involved in the business. The same goes for GEICO. Buffett's biggest investments have therefore been those in which he has invested far more than his capital.
We also learn that Buffett relied on his network of friends much more than previously thought, encouraging them to "ride the skirts" of big investors (if not his). While the American Express investment was oversimplified during the salad oil crisis, what we learn here is that Buffett hired friends to dig up piles of scratching posts and company reports before investing capital. And so on. Alice offers a very balanced, sometimes skeptical view of Buffett's life. She's not a piece of cake and gets by successfully dealing with her subject matter objectively (at least a lot more than I expected).
Buffett is the world's greatest simplifier: he lives by simple, clear rules. And in the end, he finds that the meaning of life is to be loved by as many people as possible among those who want to love you. If you have a lesson from this book, it is that there are two things that even a mountain of money cannot buy: reputation and love.
Many anecdotes are poignant, others are hilarious, and all are informative and insightful. I must have laughed out loud several times. The world is very enriched by this story. Is it perfect No, but it couldn't be either. Different readers have different needs. Some won't care about the personal side and wish the writer had more details.
Warren Buffett hired Alice Schroeder, a former insurance analyst at Paine Webber, to write her biography. He told her that if there are 2 versions of a story, use the "less flattering version". This tidbit shows just how humble the greatest investor in history is. This book has 838 pages with no annotations. I have read this book carefully and read it again. I admire Buffett. I bought my first BRK share in 1997 and its price recently fell 40% and fell below its liquidation value. I bought a few more. BRK is my largest stake and represents a third of my portfolio. If the price keeps dropping I'll buy more.
The title "Snowball" refers to the power of the composition (snowflakes become snowballs). Buffett made matters worse. At the age of 6 he started selling products (chewing gum). Numbers and money have always fascinated him. He was a precocious kid, very intelligent, good at maths. At the age of 10 he went to Wall Street and developed an interest in stocks. Shortly afterwards, bought shares. At 16 he was worth $ 5,000 (in today's dollars that would be $ 53,000).
He was born to intelligent parents who gave him a good education. He claims to have won the "Ovarian Lottery". For example, if he had been born into a poor family in Bangladesh, his capital allocation skills would have been useless. As such, he says he was very lucky to be born in the United States. His father was a libertarian Republican Congressman whom Buffett greatly admired and mourned his death. He was not close to his verbally abusive mother. Buffett himself is a well-known Liberal Democrat and speaks about the need to raise taxes on income and capital gains. He says he is a democrat because of the party's stance on civil and reproductive rights. Buffett is an atheist. He had contributed to the Democratic Party, the family and organizations "without nuclear weapons".
Interestingly enough, Buffett wanted to go to Harvard but was turned down. He was recorded in Colombia, where he came under the influence of Graham and Dodd. He recommends Graham's book, Intelligent Investor. (He recently gave an interview asking investors to pay special attention to Chapters 8 and 20). He married Susan Thompson, the daughter of a well-known local doctor. Susie gave him 3 children. Buffett was aloof from his children, he was busy and focused on his job to make money. He adored his wife, but she exhausted herself looking after Buffett. Later in her life, she moved to San Francisco and started a waitress named Astrid Menks to take care of Buffett. After Susie died a few years ago, Buffett married Astrid. Susie was a social activist with Warren's blessing. She was heavily involved in the civil and gay rights movement. After Susie's death, he was very close to his children.
Buffett befriended Kay Graham, the owner of the Washington Post Co. Kay was famous for partying in Washington DC. Buffett, the guy from Nebraska, met a lot of famous people at what he called elephant bumping. After some initial hesitation, he found that he really enjoyed meeting elephants.
Berkshire Hathaway was a textile mill bought by Buffett. It didn't make money, it was a losing business. Buffett sold it a few years later but kept the name. He teamed up with Charlie Munger and began acquiring other businesses. Their relationship became so complex that it was investigated by the SEC in 1975. SEC Commissioner Stan Sporkin concluded that Buffett and Munger were wrong, but they weren't crooks. They received a small band on their wrist. The incident prompted Buffett and Munger to simplify their partnership.
Another cause of concern for Buffett and Munger was the acquisition of a stake in Salomon Brothers, which was embroiled in a government bond purchase scandal. A rogue dealer has so many problems. Buffett took the chair and worked with federal regulators and paid a massive fine, got Solomon well and sold him. One of the actors in this incident was John Merriweather, who later left the company and started Long Term Capital Management. In 1999, LTCM almost imploded, risking global financial collapse. Buffett offered to buy LTCM only if Merriweather left. Buffett diligently maintained his reputation, and Merriweather was viewed as affiliated.
To be successful in business, you need to be patient, seek value, be honest, and have money on hand. And don't think about anything else. Indeed, be an unrepentant monomaniac. Warren Buffett has become the richest man in the world by making investments that are laughed at every 10 years. Bill Gates.)
The biography is an impressive work in itself. 838 tightly written pages about a man whose private life was rather unspectacular (Hamburger and Cherry Coke, ruminating stock lists and annual reports). Schroeder is a business writer and financial analyst, so she has real business knowledge and can write with authority on complex cases like Salomon Brothers. I would have loved to see her write a biography on Bill Gates with the same level of business detail, although we'll probably have to wait a decade or so for that to happen.
Also recommendable as a backgrounder on the financial crisis - current status as of April 2008, which in itself is impressive.
Definitely worth reading if you are a groupie Warren (which I am)
Maybe to read, if not?
Some have criticized the book for not being stronger in the secrets of its investment success. This is stupid. For starters, Warren Buffet himself has written extensively on the subject and provided most of the wisdom that can be imparted. Read his annual letters or even interviews if that's what you want. Second, by definition, there is no such thing as a simple playbook with rules that people can follow for their financial success. I wouldn't read a book on Tiger Woods and be upset that I didn't get a good golf swing; Why would anyone complain the same way about a book about Warrent Buffet?
So overall I liked it because it didn't go too deep into investment advice and focused more on organic investing, both personal and, to a lesser extent, investing. It didn't make me like Warren anymore (obviously that wasn't the point), but it was still interesting to know a bit more about what makes him tick, and I think the book worked well. to that.