Warren Buffett’s way

 

Quietly flouting convention has been Buffett’s lifelong m.o. Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisition of Precision Castparts is the latest example.

Over the next three weeks, the media will be clogged with forward-angled articles looking past the Warren Buffett era at Berkshire Hathaway as the legendary CEO and investor turns 85 at the end of the month. I won’t be writing any of them. While it seems sensible to contemplate the next managerial chapter as a CEO closes in on 90, Buffett has confounded conventional thinking so often over the decades that maybe we should instead focus on what he’ll do next. After all, he isn’t even getting tired, as we see in Monday morning’s news of his biggest deal in years.

Berkshire has just announced that it will pay $32 billion in cash for Precision Castparts (total deal value: $37.2 billion), a company that could be described non-metaphorically as a nuts-and-bolts business. Here we observe a corporate leader at his most characteristically contrarian: Precision’s stock was down 22% this year because low oil prices have hurt many of its customers in the oil and gas business. But where the market saw trouble, Buffett saw a strong long-term business at a bargain price. And, as he has often done, he got excited by a company most people had never heard of and would regard as hopelessly unglamorous. This is a CEO who has pounced on companies with names like Ohio Mattress and (my favorite) Acme Brick.

Quietly flouting convention has been Buffett’s lifelong m.o. He has famously never split Berkshire’s stock (recent price: about $215,000 a share), and he never tells Wall Street analysts what he expects Berkshire’s earnings to be this quarter or this year. He does, however, tell investors from time to time that he thinks Berkshire stock is too expensive. He runs America’s fourth-biggest company (2014 revenue: $195 billion) with a headquarters staff of 25. He has been an activist investor since long before the term existed, and he has fired CEOs of companies in which he holds a stake. But, unlike today’s high-profile, vigorously tweeting activists, he has done it almost invisibly.

By continuing to go his own way, Buffett remains one of the great business leaders of the past 50 years. Who knows how long his reign may last? His Coca-Cola-and-hamburger-based diet, another snub of conventionality, has served him remarkably well so far.

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