Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tap Dancing to Work: The NotMakingThisUp Book Review


 Carol Loomis is an editor at Fortune Magazine who not only brought Warren Buffett to the attention of a wide American investing audience through her own beautifully written articles in Fortune, but also became the one person Buffett himself trusted to edit his now-famous annual shareholder letters, which he writes longhand before getting her input in a process that takes several months each year. 
 Loomis has also been a close friend, not to mention a bridge partner, of his for decades, and Buffett thinks so highly of her integrity that he put the 2006 blockbuster announcement of his $40 billion charitable gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in her hands a month before the actual press release went out, so Fortune could break the news in a cover story.
 Oh, and she always asks the first question at the Berkshire shareholder meeting, pulling no punches for her friend in the process.
 So if there were one person you’d like to see a Buffett book from, it would be Carol Loomis. 
 And although this book isn’t that book—it’s more a Fortune Magazine compilation, edited by Loomis, of pieces about Buffett by many people, including Loomis—it still has plenty of insights from which any investor, whether a Buffett fan or not, would benefit.
 The best, not surprisingly, come from those closest to him…for example, Bill Gates, who, in a 1996 “book review” of Roger Lowenstein’s excellent Buffett biography describes the intellectual spark that bonded him to Buffett the first time they ever meet.
 For sure, Gates is not much of a reviewer—he called Lowenstein’s book “competently written,” which is like calling Copolla’s The Godfather “competently filmed”—but he tells us a few very interesting things about Buffett that we haven’t already heard a million times.
 And there are just enough of those, from Gates and others, to make this book worth buying, and reading: the “model in his head of the whole world” Buffett carries; the dice trick he tried to spring on Gates, who nevertheless figured out the trick; the way he structures incentive pay depending on what drives each of Berkshire’s CEO’s businesses; and how he—an old-fashioned knee-jerk liberal Democrat—challenges others to think about the world at large (not just about investments).
 As for the Buffett book we’d like to see from Carol Loomis, it’ll probably never happen, at least in Buffett’s lifetime.  But if it were, readers would be treated to insights on Buffett one can only imagine, with the kind of sentences only Carol can write—as these first paragraphs of one of her “Tap Dancing” contributions reminds us:
 Just in from Omaha and making a do-it-yourself delivery, Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett strolled into the downtown Manhattan offices of Harris Trust on March 5 [1995] and handed two envelopes to a Harris officer.  In Envelope No.1 was stock worth, gulp, $2.5 billion, Berkshire’s 20 million shares of Capital Cities/ABC, being delivered to the company’s purchase, Walt Disney Co.
 In Envelope No. 2, sealed and marked “Do not open until 4:30 P.M. on March 7,” were Buffett’s wishes—kept secret from even the managements of Disney and Cap Cities—as to how he wanted Berkshire to be paid for the contents of Envelope No. 1…”
 Would that “Tap Dancing to Work” was a true Carol Loomis memoir of her of decades with Warren Buffett…but as collections go, it’s worth plenty on its own.

Jeff Matthews
Author “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett”
(eBooks on Investing, 2012)    Available now at Amazon.com

© 2012 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

No comments: