Last week, Charlie Munger, the 95-year-old billionaire vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway who has worked with Warren Buffett for 40 years (and known him for 60), gave an interview in his Los Angeles home.
The total length: Six hours.
I so wish I had been there for this. I can't even imagine. I've been interviewing people for 20 years, and believe me, six hours breaks almost every record. Ninety minutes usually exhausts both questioner and interviewee.
Alas, his interlocutors were two reporters from The Wall Street Journal. Somehow Inc. didn't get on the guest list.
What scoops did they get? What incredible words of wisdom were dropped by Buffett's so-called "right hand man," who as the writers acknowledge is known for saying simply, "I have nothing to add," after Buffett speaks at their company's annual shareholder meetings?
The 2019 meeting is today, by the way. And granted, Buffett and Munger often endure a half dozen hours of questions at the annual meeting. But this one-on-one (actually one-on-two) at Munger's house seems different.
Munger hit on "many" subjects, the Journal says, but their report focused exclusively on one thing in particular that kept coming up, and that is apparently near and dear to his heart: architecture.
Although he has never even read a book on the subject, Munger is apparently an amateur expert who gets unusual opportunities to practice the craft.
The reason: his penchant for donating hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to educational institutions for facility construction -- but then sticking around long after the checks have cleared to ensure that whatever is built satisfied his aesthetic and functional preferences.
"It's hilarious to me, because I can't tell you what the color of the carpet is in my bedroom," Buffett told the Journal.
Munger's intense involvement seems to stem from pure interest, and from his belief that most professional traditional architects are "massively stupid."
And, before you dismiss him as a wealthy benefactor putting weird self-aggrandizing restrictions on his donations, check out his ideas. A few of his examples leapt out at me as eminently sensible.
Let's start with the amusing one: his insistence that public buildings have significantly more women's bathrooms than men's rooms.
"Any time you go to a football game or a function there's a huge line outside the women's bathroom. Who doesn't know that they pee in a different way than the men?" Mungersaid. "What kind of idiot would make the men's bathroom and the women's bathroom the same size? The answer is, a normal architect!"
Another example seemed quite prescient. For example, Munger donated to build a school library at a Los Angeles middle school in 2008, where he required that the walls surrounding the computer room be constructed so they were easily removable.
A few years later, when everyone switched from stationary desktop computers to mobile laptops, it was easy to turn the computer rooms into something else.
"He can see into the future," says Jim De Matté, school's chief of campus operations and construction told the Journal. "I don't know how he does it."
Of course, it's not hard to draw a line between Munger's architectural opinions and his success as an investor. Study and invest in enough companies, build enough buildings, and you see patterns over and over.
Perhaps you will agree that some of his design preferences are a little less clear cut. He has a strong affinity for outdoor hallways and stairs, giving the buildings depicted in the Journal article a bit of a motel-like ambiance.
And other choices seem a little more open to debate, too: for example insisting that all dorm rooms in one building at Stanford be designed as singles, which means that many of them have to be interior rooms without windows.
"Not every representative of a nonprofit is expert in dealing with the eccentricities of Charlie, who's so deeply involved in every step of the process and often late into the process," Peter Kaufman, a Munger friend who is the CEO of an aerospace parts manufacturer, said.
Munger apparently spends hours each day working on architectural drawings. And as the man funding the projects, he gets the final word.
"Architects don't love me," he told the Journal. "Either I change architects, or he does it my way."