Berkshire Hathaway 2013 Annual Meeting Audience Question # 30

How luck and timing contributed to Warren’s success as an investor

Warren Buffett:

OK. Station 10.

Audience Member:

Thank you. Marc Marzotto, Toronto, Canada.

Bill Gross made recent comments that his generation of investors, yourselves included, owed a deal of their success to timing.

Do you agree with Bill’s comment, and do you think a similar opportunity will provide itself to today’s investors? Thank you.

Warren Buffett:

Yeah, there’s no question that being born in the United States was a huge, huge, huge advantage to me, and as I’ve pointed out in a recent article, being born male was a big advantage.

I would not have had the same opportunities in the investment, or in the business world, remotely, that I’ve had if I’d been a female born in 1930.

And the timing could have been a little better. Actually, my dad was a security salesman and, you know, I was conceived in November, 1929. And if you remember, the stocks had gone down dramatically at that time.

There really wasn’t anybody to call on, for my dad, and there wasn’t any television at home or anything. So here I am, you know.

So I feel myself very lucky that the crash of 1929 came along.

And that also provided a decade, more than a decade, of people who were very turned off.

Well, it was a decade of terrible business for quite a while, and then a decade of… more of people that were turned off on stocks, just as we sort of had a decade like that in the past decade going up to 2010 or so, people that… a lot of people… that had gotten turned off by stocks.

So that was a favorable environment. But the United States itself was an incredibly favorable environment. If I’d been born five years earlier, I probably would have made more money. But if

I’d been born 10 or 15 years later, I would’ve made, probably, less money.

But, it…I envy the baby that’s being born today in the United States. I mean, I think, on a probability basis, that’s the luckiest individual that’s ever been born.

And I think that they will do very well in life in all kinds of ways, on a probability basis, better than existed when I was born.

And I think they’ll have opportunities to do very well in the investment field.

It may not be as good a field as it was for me starting in 19-, say, ’50, ’51 or thereabouts, but it will be a very good field to operate in.

The person that has a passion for investing, born today, coming of age 20 years from now, is likely, in my view, to do very well, and to live far better than we live today, just as we live far better than John D. Rockefeller lived many years ago.

Charlie?

Charlie Munger:

Well, the competition was very weak in your early days, and I don’t think the competition is as weak now.

So I think, sure, we got advantages from timing. And I don’t think that means there’s nothing to be done ahead.

Warren Buffett:

But Charlie, in 2008 and ’9, there were all kinds of high IQ…

Charlie Munger:

Yeah.

Warren Buffett:

… highly experienced, investment professionals, I mean, thousands and thousands and thousands of them.

And you invested at the Daily Journal Company in some equities at X that are worth, what, three X or four X now, or something like that?

Charlie Munger:

That’s right.

Warren Buffett:

Yeah. Well, I call that opportunity, but it may be routine to him.

Charlie Munger:

But I sat for a lot of years before I did it.

Warren Buffett:

But it still became available.

Charlie Munger:

Oh, yes. But you were drowning in opportunities when I first knew you.

You were waiting for…

Warren Buffett:

I wasn’t drowning in money, unfortunately.

Charlie Munger:

No, what you lacked was money.

Warren Buffett:

Yeah. Well, now we’ve got money and no ideas.

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