This years Berkshire Hathaway Letter to Shareholders (PDF) is a fascinating reads, filled with all sorts of gems:
“Selecting the S&P 500 as our bogey was an easy choice because our shareholders, at virtually no cost, can match its performance by holding an index fund. Why should they pay us for merely duplicating that result?
A more difficult decision for us was how to measure the progress of Berkshire versus the S&P. There are good arguments for simply using the change in our stock price. Over an extended period of time, in fact, that is the best test. But year-to-year market prices can be extraordinarily erratic. Even evaluations covering as long as a decade can be greatly distorted by foolishly high or low prices at the beginning or end of the measurement period. Steve Ballmer, of Microsoft, and Jeff Immelt, of GE, can tell you about that problem, suffering as they do from the nosebleed prices at which their stocks traded when they were handed the managerial baton.”
I have never been a Buffett cheerleader — he supped at Uncle Sam’s teat during the crisis — but I have always appreciated his blunt forthrightness. Its hard to imagine many other CEOs writing words to this effect:
“The big minus is that our performance advantage has shrunk dramatically as our size has grown, an unpleasant trend that is certain to continue. To be sure, Berkshire has many outstanding businesses and a cadre of truly great managers, operating within an unusual corporate culture that lets them maximize their talents. Charlie and I believe these factors will continue to produce better-than-average results over time. But huge sums forge their own anchor and our future advantage, if any, will be a small fraction of our historical edge.
And it gets better from there. There is no love lost between Berkshire (like Google) and Wall Street:
“We make no attempt to woo Wall Street. Investors who buy and sell based upon media or analyst commentary are not for us. Instead we want partners who join us at Berkshire because they wish to make a long-term investment in a business they themselves understand and because it’s one that follows policies with which they concur. If Charlie and I were to go into a small venture with a few partners, we would seek individuals in sync with us, knowing that common goals and a shared destiny make for a happy business “marriage” between owners and managers. Scaling up to giant size doesn’t change that truth.”
And lastly, this:
“At 86 and 79, Charlie and I remain lucky beyond our dreams. We were born in America; had terrific parents who saw that we got good educations; have enjoyed wonderful families and great health; and came equipped with a “business” gene that allows us to prosper in a manner hugely disproportionate to that experienced by many people who contribute as much or more to our society’s well-being. Moreover, we have long had jobs that we love, in which we are helped in countless ways by talented and cheerful associates. Indeed, over the years, our work has become ever more fascinating; no wonder we tap-dance to work. If pushed, we would gladly pay substantial sums to have our jobs (but don’t tell the Comp Committee).”
Good Sunday reading . . .
UPDATE February 28, 20120 11:15 am
A few of you have emailed to say you cannot open the PDF. Perhaps its the traffic, as the letter was released today. I’ll see if I can embed the letter.
Done! Embedded version here