Berkshire Hathaway 2009 Annual Meeting Audience Question # 30

Is BYD a venture capital speculative investment?

Warren Buffett:

With that, we’ll go to Andrew.

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

Excellent. This question actually just came across the BlackBerry before lunch from what I think is an audience member.

Josh Wolfe of New York writes the following: “BYD appears to be more like a venture capital speculative investment than a value investment. Would you both explain that investment, your logic behind it, and your expectations for it?”

Warren Buffett:

Yeah. I’m going to turn that over to Charlie in just one second. But Charlie and I think there is no other kind of investment than a value investment.

In other words, we don’t know how anybody would invest in a non-value investment. So we’ve always been puzzled by the term, “value,” and saying that contrasts with growth or anything.

Value relates to getting a lot for the expectable flow of cash in the future, in terms of what you’re laying out today.

So we… we’ve always… every time somebody characterizes us as value investors, we always ask them, what other kind can there be?

Warren Buffett:

But Charlie is our team leader here on BYD. And he gets very excited. So I may have to control him. But go to it, Charlie.

Charlie Munger:

Yes, well, of course, BYD, although its founder is only 43 years old, is not some early-stage venture capital company.

BYD is one of the main manufacturers to the world of the rechargeable lithium battery. And it achieved that position from a standing start at zero under the leadership of the founder, Wang Chuan Fu.

And… they went on into cell phone components and developed a huge position.

And then, finally, not satisfied with having worked a couple of miracles, Wang Chuan Fu decided he would go into the automobile business.

As nearly as I can tell, it was zero experience in automobiles. And from a standing start at zero and with very little capital, he rapidly was able to create the best-selling single model in China.

And that’s against competition that was Chinese joint ventures with all the major auto companies of the world, technological marvels with way more capital and so on.

This is not some unproven, highly speculative activity. What it is, is a damn miracle. And…

Warren Buffett:

I warned you.

Charlie Munger:

And of course, Wang Chuan Fu has hired 17,000 engineering graduates. And those engineering graduates are selected from a billion, 300 million people in China.

And he’s hiring at the top of the classes. And… so you get a remarkable aggregation of human talent.

And then you’ve got the basic quality of the Chinese people. Which, when unfettered from the wrong kind of government… for instance, the wrong kind of emperor… the Chinese people succeed mightily.

When they came to this country as “coolies”… slaves… they would leave and soon be the most important people in the town.
So this is a very talented group of people. And, in a sense, this particular period may be Chinese… the Chinese day.

And of course, these batteries, these lithium batteries, are totally needed in the future of the world. We need them in every utility company in America. We need them in every utility company in the world.

And we have to use the direct power of the sun. And we can’t do that without marvelous batteries. And he’s in the… BYD is in the sweet spot on that stuff.

And I know it looks like a miracle. And it looks like Warren and I have gone crazy. But I don’t think we have.

Warren Buffett:

Well, one of us, at most.

Charlie Munger:

And that car you’re going to see in the annex… I think they make everything in that car except the glass and the rubber. There may be a couple of small exceptions.

That’s unheard of. Whoever went into the automobile business and made every part, and made the automobile a best-settle… best-selling… thing? This is not normal. I mean, this is very unusual.

And I regard it as a privilege to have Berkshire associated with a company that is trying to do so much that’s so important for humanity, when you get right down to it. Because it may be a small company, but its ambitions are large.

And I don’t want to bet against 17,000 Chinese engineers led by Wang Chuan Fu, plus 100,000 more talented Chinese in a brand-new area… constructed the way they want it. I will be amazed, if great things don’t happen here.

I don’t think, given the size, it can be all that important to Berkshire, financially. But I have never, in my life, been more… felt more privileged to be associated with something than I feel about BYD.

Warren Buffett:

BYD was Charlie’s last year. The Irish banks were mine. So he’s… the winner.

BYD, incidentally, does $4 billion a year of business. I mean, so it is not a small business. And it will probably get a lot larger.

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