When Warren Buffett speaks, the whole investment world perks up their ears and listens. If you happened to miss his weekend Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting (for example, if your invitation got lost in the mail), you missed some gems. Here are 5 things you should know.
1. Plumbers and Dentists are better than Hedge Fund Managers.
In your daily life, what gives you a better return on investment? Your hedge fund manager who makes money no matter what, or your dentist who fixes that rotten tooth or the plumber that gives you the blessing of working indoor plumbing? Buffett said,
"If you go to a dentist, if you hire a plumber, in all the professions, there is value added by the professionals as a group compared to doing it yourself or just randomly picking laymen. In the investment world it isn't true. The active group, the people that are professionals in aggregate, are not, cannot, do better than the aggregate of the people who just sit tight."
2. You Need to Be Careful What You Incentivize
Berkshire Hathaway took a beating in the Wells Fargo Scandal, where bank employees were making phantom accounts in order to meet sales goals. When the scandal broke, thousands of bank employees lost their jobs. The problem, was that the incentives were such that employees were rewarded for cheating and everyone stood the lose if someone blew the whistle. But, Buffett said, the biggest problem of all was with the CEO. Fortune reports:
The main problem was that they didn't act when they learned about it ... at some point if there's a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. And at that moment, that's the key to everything, because the CEO has to act. It was a huge, huge, huge error if they were getting, and I'm sure they were getting, some communications and they ignored them or they just sent them back down to somebody down below.
Because the incentives were wrong, no one wanted to blow the whistle. The company could have avoided a huge scandal if they had made whistle blowing more valuable than keeping quiet.
3. Pay for Performance.
As said above, many hedge fund managers make money regardless what happens--they get 2 percent off the top, and then bonuses based on profit. But Hedge Funds aren't mom and pop investments--2 percent on a $1 billion hedge fund is $20 million, even if you lose money. "In any other field, it would just blow your mind," said Buffett. Compare that to Berkshire Hathaway's system. Bloomberg reports:
By comparison, the two stock-pickers at Berkshire, Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, manage about $20 billion between them and get paid $1 million a year in salary, plus bonuses based on the amount by which they beat the S&P 500 Index.
"They actually have to do something," Buffett said. "But how many hedge fund managers in the last 40 years have said 'I only want to get paid if I do something for you? Unless I actually deliver something beyond what you can get yourself, I don't want to get paid.' It just doesn't happen."
While most of us would be thrilled with a $1 million salary, compare that to the $20 million other would get for failing at a billion dollar hedge fund. Buffett's stock pickers get paid well, but they only get paid ridiculously well when they perform.
4. Don't Make Your Company's Success Dependent Upon Politics.
Buffett openly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, but he's not letting a Trump win discourage him. In fact, he says he'll take advantage of the blessings that he expects to come his way because of a Trump administration Berkshire expects the corporate tax to drop from 35 percent to 15 percent and will take full advantage.
Your candidate may not have won either, but don't let that stop you from making a profit regardless.The Wall Street Journal reports that Buffett believes "Berkshire's long-term performance won't depend on who is president." Take that lesson to heart for your company as well.
5. Want an Index Fund? Try Vanguard.
At the start of the annual meeting Saturday, Buffett called out the attendance of Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle in the audience. Buffett praised Bogle for helping millions of Americans save on fees through his development of index funds for retail investors. Buffett has said most of the money he's leaving for his wife after his death will be invested in a Vanguard S&P 500 index.
Talk about an endorsement for Vanguard. Maybe we should all take a careful look at Vanguard even though we have considerably less money than Buffett's wife will have.