19 Priceless Takeaways From the New Book on Buffett

Carol Loomis' new book about her close friend Warren Buffett is an embarrassment of riches for investors. If the Oracle of Omaha's most avid fans wanted just one volume about their hero, this might be it.

"Tap Dancing to Work" is a compilation of all of Fortune's big articles on Warren Buffett with fresh introductions provided by Loomis, who has worked for Fortune since 1954. The collection covers 46 years of history, and provides insights from Buffett on "practically everything."

In fact, this book is packed with so many Buffett-related facts, quotes, insights, lessons, etc. that it would be impossible for one article to even scratch the surface of it. With that in mind, I decided to share 19 fascinating things I learned from the book. Investors will, of course, learn much, much more by picking up a copy for themselves.

1. When Warren Buffett was first mentioned by Fortune in 1966, Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) stock -- today's Class A shares -- traded at around $22 per share. As of January 2013, the stock trades at approximately $144,000 per share. 

2. Buffett's first piece for Fortune was written in 1977, and was titled, "How Inflation Swindles the Equity Investor." Both Fortune and Buffett still receive letters about it. Buffett received $1 for the article.

3. Buffett assisted Grinnell College with its endowment from 1968 until 2011. He once said that "It was a fine school with twelve hundred students when it had an $8 million endowment, and it was a fine school with twelve hundred students when it had a $500 million endowment." As of 2012, the school has around sixteen hundred students with an endowment of around $1.5 billion. Like Buffett, Steve Jobs also served on the board of trustees at Grinnell.

4. According to Loomis, Steve Jobs once called Buffett to talk about ideas for deploying Apple's excess cash. Ultimately, Jobs didn't follow Buffett's advice.

5. Of all the written and oral presentations he has given, Buffett believes that "The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville" is the best. If you've never read it before, you should definitely make time to do so.

6. Buffett looks for managers that are likeable, talented, honest, and goal-driven.

7. Someone once asked Charlie Munger, Buffett's business partner, what one quality accounted for his business success. Munger replied, "I'm rational. That's the answer. I'm rational." 

8. When they criticize Buffett, his managers say that he is too rational when it comes to numbers.

9. Buffett chooses every single person he works with. He just refuses to work with people he doesn't "like or admire."

10. Buffett believes Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) is the best large business in the world. He has said, "Its product sells for an extremely moderate price. It's universally liked -- the per capita consumption goes up almost every year in almost every country. There isn't another product like it."

11. Unlike a lot of academics, Buffett feels that portfolio concentration is a good thing. He states that "portfolio concentration may well decrease risk if it raises, as it should, both the intensity with which an investor thinks about a business and the comfort level he must feel with its economic characteristics before buying into it."

12. One of Buffett's favorite analytical exercises is to choose a year from the past, and then identify the 10 largest companies by market valuation of that time. He then looks forward 10 years to see how those companies fared.

13. The only thing Buffett doesn't like about his job is that he has to fire someone every three or four years or so.

14. Buffett's simple but useful definition of investing: "Investing is laying out money now to get more money back in the future -- more money in real terms, after taking inflation into account."

15. Buffett on derivatives: "When Charlie and I finish reading the long footnotes detailing the derivatives activities of major banks, the only thing we understand is that we don't understand how much risk the institution is running."

16. For any large financial organization, Buffett believes the CEO should also be the chief risk officer.

17. Buffett on hedge funds: "A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors."

18. Buffett's favorite metric for identifying good environments for buying stocks is the relationship of the total value of U.S. stocks to GNP. For most of the 20th century, according to Loomis, stock values ranged from 40% to 80% of GNP.

19. When it comes to investing in stocks, Buffett believes there are only two things you can do wrong: "You can buy the wrong ones, and you can buy or sell them at the wrong time. And the truth is that you never need to sell them, basically." He adds that "the only way an investor can get killed is by high fees or by trying to outsmart the market."

I'll close with one of my favorite Buffett quotes from the book: "The market, like the Lord, helps those who help themselves. But, unlike the Lord, the market does not forgive those who know not what they do."

Motley Fool advisor (and amateur comedian) Joe Magyer has created a premium research report on Berkshire Hathaway. You can read it by clicking here.


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