The Buffett Essays Symposium: A 20th Anniversary Annotated Transcript

The Buffett Essays Symposium: A 20th Anniversary Annotated Transcript

Posted by jack_miller | Published a year ago

With 9 ratings

By: Lawrence A. Cunningham

Purchased At: $20.00

Among the landmark occasions in the legendary history of Berkshire Hathaway and its iconic co-leaders, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, was a 1996 symposium held in New York at Cardozo Law School. The focus of the symposium was Warren's letters to Berkshire shareholders. The format was a series of panels with two dozen different experts dissecting all the ideas in the letters, about corporate governance, takeovers, investing, and accounting. Intellectual sparks illuminated the two-day affair, which drew unusual press interest for an academic convocation.

While the principal tangible result of the conference was the publication of the international best-seller, The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, the transcript of the symposium is now being made available with annotations and updated commentary that show just how timeless the topics are and how venerable the principles Buffett laid out remain. Lawrence Cunningham had the honor of hosting the event, editing The Essays, and now publishing this archival treasure, with current assessments by such luminaries as Robert Hagstrom as well as several participants from the original symposium.
One of the striking aspects of reading about Warren Buffett is the fact that the core principles of his investment philosophy do not change over time. Indeed, the fact that his principles are both correct and enduring is the key to his incredible success over the past sixty years. Students of Warren Buffett will already be familiar with Cunningham's compilation of Buffett's annual letters to Berkshire shareholders which provides a thematic presentation of letters interesting to those who are already familiar with them in chronological form. In this new book, Cunningham provides a transcript arranged by theme of a symposium that took place twenty years ago with Buffett, Munger, and a number of leading academics, lawyers, and other practitioners. This is a fascinating account of an event that most of us would have loved to attend in person. We see the same Buffett that we have observed over the years providing the same consistent wisdom and humor. Charlie Munger's wit and wisdom is also ever present in the transcript.

This book is not long and can be read in one sitting, but the wisdom is well worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.

- lillie_rogers

Almost feels like you were at the conference. Surprisingly fresh material considering it occurred 20 years ago. Buffett and Munger both took their time to debate with some very impressive scholars. Given the small venue (150 people, many Berkshire insiders), this transcript presents a side to them that's basically never been seen since. Would be nice if Cunningham would create a movie version from the videotape!

- phillip_sanchez

This book allows us to read how Charlie and Warren answered questions on a variety of topics posed to them by academics in their respective fields. As usual their answers were quite rational and I always find it interesting just how little their perspectives have changed over the years. I particularly enjoyed their discussion of risk and volatility, using a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving and their viewpoints on corporate governance problems to be the most interesting parts of the book.

- shmuel_cook

I did not like format of the book. The title of the book is misleading because I thought it would have Buffett essays from his berkshire annual reports.
Or essays from Buffett in a similar manner instead it had short sentence from Munger and Buffett... The book was informative but I thought
it was just ok and I was disappointed because it didn't have Buffett's writing in long form.

- rudy_bailey

I feel that "The Essays Of Warren Buffett Lessons for Investors and managers" is a much more important book for invesstors.

- hunter_evans

If you’ve ever watched Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger answering questions at a Berkshire Hathaway AGM, one thing that is striking is the combination of breadth and depth. That is, the breadth in the number of topics covered and the depth of the insight. The George Washington University professor Larry Cunningham early on realized the quality of Warren Buffett’s thinking and two decades ago took Buffett’s letters to shareholders, rearranged the writing after topic and created an instant investment classic. The Essays of Warren Buffett is solidly parked on our list of best investment books ever.

In connection to the launch a two-day convention in New York was hosted by Cunningham. Apart from Buffett and Munger a number of well-known investors like Lou Simpson, Bill Ackman, Robert Hagstrom, Bruce Berkowitz and Paul Hilal had the rare luxury of attending the event. A total of 150 persons attended the two days. The arrangement was that an expert panel per subject would start a discussion and pretty soon Buffett, Munger and others would join the discussion. This book is the edited transcript of this symposium.

The topics of the discussions - and the chapters of the book - were corporate governance, finance and investing, mergers and acquisitions and accounting and taxes. Much of the text covers the panelists discussing their take on a specific line of thought that has been presented by one of the others - and that doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the writings of Buffett. It’s a learned and intelligent discussion, which in the academic tradition wiggles forward through trial and error and testing a thesis of a more or less important topic. Often Buffett and Munger are asking questions and learning rather than taking the lead role.

It’s nevertheless when Buffett and Munger now and then join in that the discussion goes from interesting to sparkling. It’s fascinating to view the difference in language. The panelists use an academic prose littered with specialist expressions and with a deep knowledge of detail. Every other line from Buffett and Munger instead reads like a quotation from Yogi Berra. The words glow. The drastic examples, mundane wording and smart metaphors cant hide the fact that Buffett and Munger often capture the essence of what the other panelists painstakingly are trying to arrive at.

While the expert panelists change depending on subject, Buffett and Munger continue to discuss topic after topic on the same high level. Now and then it shines through that the two are very rational in how they spend their time and therefore haven’t fully studied the finer details of matters they don’t think benefit them. For example when Munger quips that he supports the weak form of market efficiency, he probably rather wants to deliver a good punch line than have an opinion on the usefulness of technical analysis specifically. Buffett and Munger have rejected modern portfolio theory on a common sense basis, what is then the use of wasting time studying the details of the theory?

The Buffett Essays Symposium is a short book and it really doesn’t offer new thinking from Buffett or Munger. It’s a nice set of Buffett trivia with plenty of unique pictures but the reader learns little new. I still think it is remarkable how early Buffett and Munger had come to formulate their worldview and how little it changes over the years. Compared to the panelists they more often take a broader societal view, they look to fairness and justice and distils key principles. Then naturally there is little need for change of viewpoint. What’s right is right. I also think Charlie Munger comes more to his right in these discussions compared to playing the role of the drastic side-kick at Berkshire AGMs. His background as a lawyer shines through when he discusses corporate governance structures etc.

The Essays of Warren Buffett is a need to have. Without having read this book you cannot claim to be an intelligent investor. For anyone but the die-hard Buffetteer this symposium book is a nice to have - wrong, a very nice to have - but still.

This is a review by

- gary_torres

This superb book takes the reader back 20 years in time to a symposium of investors attended by Berkshire's Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. The two-day seminar, held at Cordozo Law School in New York, tackled such issues as corporate governance, finance and investing, mergers and acquisitions, accounting and taxation. The focus was on Buffett's famed annual letters to shareholders and the format was a series of panels with experts dissecting various aspects of the letters. No one knows this subject better than Cunningham who also wrote Essays of Warren Buffett--Lessons for Corporate America. Cunningham reports that such luminaries as Sandy Gottesman, Ajit Jain, Carol Loomis and George Gillespie attended the seminar. This is a terrific look back in time at famous investors.

- jaelynn_cook

Quite disapointed, not what I expected.

- jayceon_gonzales

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