Who among us wouldn’t jump at the chance to have lunch with Warren Buffett? I wouldn’t care if it were at a fancy place or a food truck, so long as I got to pick the Sage of Omaha’s brain for an hour or two.
That’s exactly what two investors, Mohnish Pabrai and Guy Spier, got to do in exchange for making huge contributions to a very worthy cause. Each spent a whopping $650,100 as part of an annual charity auction for Glide Foundation, whose mission is to help get homeless and impoverished people back on their feet.
Aside from donating to this worthy cause, the two got to share a table with Buffett at the esteemed Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City.
But a great porterhouse wasn’t all that was on the menu. These two investors took this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gather advice from Buffett on the topic of business. According to the pair, their über-expensive lunch was more than worth it, and they walked away with three invaluable lessons.
1. Integrity is everything.
Buffett gave Pabrai and Spier a colorful method to determine their integrity. “Would you rather be the greatest lover in the world yet be known as the worst, or would you rather be the worst lover and be known as the greatest?” he asked them. The two remember that he then said, “If you know how to answer that correctly, then you have the right internal yardstick.”
Buffett is stalwart in identifying and cultivating integrity, particularly at a young age. “A student [of college age] can pretty much decide what kind of person they are going to be at 60,” the billionaire said in an interview with Nebraska Business magazine. “If they don’t have integrity [now], they never will.” Buffett has also previously stated that he looks for this virtuous trait in all employees.
He went on to explain to his lunch companions that both he and his longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, approach truth, honesty and integrity by using their own “internal yardsticks,” Pabrai told CNBC.
2. Learn how to say ‘no,’ and get comfortable doing it.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything,” Buffett once said. During their lunch, Buffet showed the two investors his calendar, which was almost completely bare.
This is not a new practice; Buffett has been living this way for years. In an interview, close friend and fellow billionaire Bill Gates said that, when he first met him in 1991, Buffett showed him his planner, and it was largely empty.
“Clearly, he lives by this sentiment,” Spier wrote in MarketWatch. “He likes to leave his time unstructured, and to leave plenty of room for spontaneity,” said Spier. “Observing Buffett, I could tell that even though he is a kind man at heart he also has absolutely no trouble enduring the momentary unpleasantness that comes from saying no. As I realized this, I resolved to get a lot better at my own ability to say no.”
If you ask Buffett, his “consistently amazing growth” is made possible in large part by his ability to confidently say “no.”
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3. Set your sites on what you love, and do it.
Buffett, whose net worth is north of $86 billion, loves his job so much that he’s said he would be just as happy doing it for much less. “Certainly with $100,000 a year, I could be very happy,” he told PBS Newshour. “You really want to think about, what will make you feel good, when you get older, about your life, and you at least generally want to keep going in that direction.”
At their lunch, Buffett urged the importance of doing what you love, Spier told CNBC. He first pointed out that Cecil Williams, founder of the Glide Foundation, is doing what he loves by helping take care of the less fortunate, and that Buffett equally loves what he’s doing as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
His advice is especially potent for young people, who may just be starting out in careers. Buffett wants these folks in particular to heed his advice. “When you go out in the world, look for the job you would take if you didn’t need the money,” Buffett said at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2017 shareholder meeting.
All of these points are solid advice from a reliable source, and we can all stand to learn something from them. This year’s auction ran from May 27 to June 1. This time, the winning bidder can invite up to seven guests to dine with Buffet, but the price will likely be more than what Spier and Pabrai paid – last year the bidding went over $2.5 million. While some may cringe or scoff (or both) at such a pretty penny, Pabrai and Spier both reported that their lunch was worth every cent.
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