The Essays of Warren Buffett, Third Edition: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 19th, 2013 by bobmorris

Essays of Buffett (Lessons)The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Third Edition
Warren Buffett; Edited by Lawrence A. Cunningham
Carolina Academic Press (March 2013

Here in the Third Edition are business information, insights, and counsel of incalculable and timeless value

This is the Third Edition of an ongoing process by which Warren Buffett presents a “chairman’s letter” (i.e. progress report with his unique reflections) to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders at their annual meeting. Lawrence A. Cunningham edited each of the three editions, with the latest including Buffett’s annual letters to Berkshire shareholders since 2008, the date of the prior edition. Other new material includes:

o The financial crisis and its continuing implications for investors, managers and society;
o The housing bubble at the bottom of that crisis
o The debt and derivatives excesses that fueled the crisis and how to deal with them
o Controlling risk and protecting reputation in corporate governance
o Berkshire’s acquisition and operation of Burlington Northern Santa Fe
o The role of oversight in heavily regulated industries
o Investment possibilities today
o Weaknesses of popular option valuation models

Some other material has been rearranged to deepen the themes and lessons that the collection has always produced:

o Buffett’s “owner-related business principles” are in the prologue as a separate subject
o Valuation and accounting topics are spread over four instead of two sections and reordered to sharpen their payoff.

According to Cunningham, “Those who are familiar with The Essays will notice that we have made the cover snappier than has been our custom. (Thanks for the cover design to Tim Colton, of Carolina Academic Press, which will continue to partner with me in the distribution of the book.) The main reason: the book’s traditional covers could be seen well in physical form but pictures of them, shown on the internet, could not. Since most sales are done over the Internet these days, the cover needed a face-lift.

“The adage remains, however, that one should not judge a book by its cover. This book should continue to be judged on its content and organization, in which a distinctive investment and business philosophy is coherently articulated. Thanks to the many fans of the book, first published in 1997. I hope you enjoy the updated edition. And I hope to see many of you in Omaha for the Berkshire shareholders’ meeting in May.”

With regard to the Third Edition’s subtitle, “Lessons for Corporate America,” my own opinion is that almost all of the lessons can be of substantial value to leaders in any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Among Buffett’s most important and yet least appreciated talents is his ability to establish a direct and personal rapport with each person he meets or who reads any of his letters as well as any of his articles such as those included in Carol Loomis’ superb book, Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012.

I watched three segments of Buffett and Loomis’ appearances on The Charlie Rose Show and their informal but gracious manner made me feel as if I had been a personal friend of theirs for many years. (I wish I had purchased Berkshire stock 50 years ago!) Credit Cunningham with brilliant editing as well as his own contributions to what continues to be a “moveable feast” of information, insights, wisdom, and wit. Once again, his Introduction (all by itself) is worth much more than the cost of the book as he again discusses with rigor and eloquence what he considers to be key points about Buffett and his leadership of Berkshire Hathaway in recent years.

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