Warren Buffett: Charlie Munger – The Architect of Berkshire Hathaway

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Charlie Munger

During the recent 2024 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, Warren Buffett recounts meeting Charlie Munger in 1959, likening it to twins reunited. While both were curious, Buffett focused on whether things worked, while Munger delved into how they worked.

Munger’s understanding of electricity rivalled Edison’s; he designed and built his home and envisioned one for Buffett in Santa Barbara. Berkshire’s success owes much to Munger’s architectural vision, transforming it into today’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Munger’s partnership began in 1978, guiding Berkshire’s growth. Buffett credits Munger as the architect of Berkshire, whose keen insight surpasses Buffett’s own. The carpenters and roofers, Buffett included, play their part, but Munger’s blueprint shapes Berkshire’s enduring legacy.

Here’s an excerpt from the meeting:

Buffett: Charlie and I first met in 1959. It was as if twins who had been separated at birth were reunited, but there were a few important differences between Charlie and me that many people missed.

Let me elaborate. For one thing I was only interested in whether things worked. Charlie wanted to know how things worked.

I would turn on a switch, and if the TV or light bulb went on, could not care less about what had caused that miracle.

Charlie, however, would want to understand every aspect of how the generator worked, how electricity travel to his home, the merits of AC versus DC, whatever.

You could say that Charlie understood electricity better than Thomas Edison ever did. Like his hero Ben Franklin, Charlie wanted to understand everything, and he pretty well succeeded.

Additionally, Charlie liked to design things. When we met in 1959, he was designing and building the house in which he lived throughout his life.

He once wanted to design a home for me in Santa Barbara on a piece of property Berkshire inherited. Fat chance in 1958.

I bought the house I now live in, but I would have been happy with any of 100 or more houses as long as it was in the general neighbouhood of where I was then renting.

Of course I wanted my wife to like it. I wanted to have room for four or five kids, but what it looked like inside, outside was irrelevant. The difference, of course, was of supreme importance to Berkshire. Charlie’s architectural thoughts led to the Berkshire Hathaway of today.

Some of you may be surprised that Charlie first became a director of Berkshire in 1978 through a small partnership I had bought control of Berkshire early in 1965.

Charlie then didn’t have a penny invested in Berkshire, but he immediately told me my purchase was just plain dumb, which it was. Charlie then did for me what needed to be done to correct my error, and over time we worked together to achieve his vision.

Charlie, in effect, became the architect of today’s Berkshire. The architect is the person who dreams of then designs then finally supervises the construction of great structures.

The carpenters and the roofers, that’s me, are needed, but the architect is the genius who provides the blueprint.

Berkshire has become a great company with a unique group of owners. The directors of Berkshire are the trusties of the structure Charlie designed that lives beyond his lifetime and will live far beyond mine.

You can watch the entire meeting here:

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Tobias Carlisle is the founder of The Acquirer’s Multiple®. He is also the founder of Acquirers Funds®. The Acquirer’s Multiple® is the valuation ratio used to find attractive takeover candidates.