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The Berkshire Hathaway CEO, with business partner Charlie Munger, spent hours this weekend discussing life and career choices

By Chip Cutter
Tue, May 9, 2023 2:53pmGrey Clock 3 min

The question was a philosophical one: How should you avoid major mistakes in business and life?

Warren Buffett, the 92-year-old chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, paused briefly.

“You should write your obituary and then try to figure out how to live up to it,” Mr. Buffett said. “It’s not that complicated.”

At Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting on Saturday, an event that draws thousands to Omaha, Neb., each spring, Mr. Buffett and his longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, spent hours weighing in on topics as varied as the recent banking turmoil to artificial intelligence and the future of the U.S. As is typical at such gatherings, the executives also doled out plenty of advice on management practices, career choices and how to enjoy a good life.

In prior years, Mr. Munger has heaped scorn on consultants, compensation specialists and what he described as make-work activities inside U.S. companies. This weekend, he directed his ire at wealth managers.

“Having a huge proportion of the young and brilliant people all going into wealth management is a crazy development in terms of its natural consequences for American civilisation,” Mr. Munger said. “We don’t need as many wealth managers as we have.”

He added: “I don’t think a bunch of bankers, all of whom are trying to get rich, leads to good things.”

Mr. Buffett, for his part, said he wanted to see greater accountability inside banks, saying that the recent crisis in the industry illustrated why executives and board members should face consequences if a business encounters problems.

“If the CEO gets the bank in trouble, both the CEO and the directors should suffer,” Mr. Buffett said. “You’ve got to have the penalties hit the people that cause the problems, and if they took risks that they shouldn’t have, it needs to fall on them if you’re going to change how people are going to behave in the future.”

Over hours of questions from investors and others, the two billionaires often peppered their answers with recommendations on how to navigate business. Mr. Buffett advised that people pay attention to how others might try to manipulate them.

He also encouraged those in attendance to resist the temptation to criticise or vilify others.

“I’ve never known anybody that was basically kind that died without friends,” Mr. Buffett said. “And I’ve known plenty of people with money that have died without friends.”

Mr. Munger said that success comes from steering clear of toxic people.

“The great lesson of life is get them the hell out of your life—and do it fast,” Mr. Munger said.

When hiring some of his top leaders over the years, Mr. Buffett said he has tried to suss out someone’s talents and not focus on whether they attended a prestigious institution.

“I have never looked at where anybody went to school in terms of hiring,” Mr. Buffett said. “If somebody mails me a résumé or something, I don’t care where they went to school.”

One of Mr. Buffett’s top lieutenants, Ajit Jain, studied at Harvard Business School, “but he isn’t Ajit because he went to those schools,” Mr. Buffett said.

Mr. Buffett graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and later studied under the legendary value investor Benjamin Graham at Columbia University. Mr. Munger, who is 99 years old, studied mathematics at the University of Michigan and meteorology at the California Institute of Technology, and went on to earn a law degree from Harvard University.

On artificial intelligence, Mr. Buffett said he had been impressed at generative AI’s abilities to summarise legal opinions and potentially take on other tasks, though he said he also worried about its potential consequences. “It can do all kinds of things, and when something can do all kinds of things, I get a little bit worried because I know we won’t be able to uninvent it,” Mr. Buffett said.

Mr. Munger said he was skeptical of some of the hype around artificial intelligence. “I think old-fashioned intelligence works pretty well,” he said.

Near the end of the meeting, an audience member asked the two billionaires to weigh in on Elon Musk, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO who took control of the social-media platform Twitter last year.

Mr. Buffett called Mr. Musk a “brilliant, brilliant guy,” who had a much different approach in dreaming about the future than the Berkshire executives. Mr. Buffett has often said he takes a hands-off approach to managing Berkshire’s subsidiaries, which range from the insurer Geico to the restaurant chain Dairy Queen. Mr. Musk is known for weighing in on the details at his companies.

“He would not have achieved what he has in life if he hadn’t tried for unreasonably extreme objectives,” Mr. Munger said of Mr. Musk. “He likes taking on the impossible job and doing it. We’re different: Warren and I are looking for the easy job.”

Mr. Buffett said he didn’t want to compete against Mr. Musk, to which Mr. Munger added: “We don’t want that much failure.”

Mr. Musk tweeted Saturday that he appreciated the “kind words from Warren & Charlie.”


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Milestone birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, and graduations are momentous life occasions that some like to mark with large and elaborate celebrations.

And the deep-pocketed set are still in catch-up mode after a party-throwing standstill during the pandemic that went on for many months during the height of the lockdowns and social distancing. Bashes since then have become ever more extravagant and experiential—mere get-togethers, they’re not.

Hosts are also seeking any excuse to throw an event and having parties with the same “wow” factor for far less significant reasons, or for micro-occasions as they’re called, and even “just because,” according to luxury event planners who work with this elite set.

Colin Cowie, a planner based in New York and Miami who regularly orchestrates multimillion-dollar gatherings and was behind Jennifer Lopez’s and Ben Affleck’s wedding, calls it the “event revolution.”

“Large-scale events have become the norm,” Cowie says. “The wealthy, who are used to celebrating their life moments in a big way couldn’t do anything during the pandemic and are now going all out for anything they host.”

His company, Colin Cowie Lifestyle, plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid and has a lineup booked for the next two years. An example includes an upcoming million-dollar dinner party in the Hamptons simply to socialise with friends. It’s an affair with free-flowing Dom Perignon, centre-cut filet mignons, and unlimited caviar.

Colin Cowie Lifestyle plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid
Calen Rose

Other high-end planners also attribute the rise of over-the-top celebrations to a “live life to the fullest” attitude that’s become prevalent in the last few years. But they say that these parties aren’t necessarily about spending more than before—rather, they’re increasingly creative, thoughtful, and, with respect to weddings, longer.

Lynn Easton, a Charleston-based planner, says that her typical wedding used to span two days and entailed a rehearsal dinner plus the wedding itself. “Now, it’s a five-day bonanza with events like a groomsman lunch,” Easton says.

Easton also plans glitzy milestone birthdays such as one for a 60th where the host flew 60 friends and family to a private island. Dinners were multi-hour affairs in various locations around the isle with the showpiece being a five-course meal where the food was presented on dishes that were hand-carved in ice.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, based in New York and Miami, says that, in a new precedent, the weddings she’s tapped to design kick off with striking welcome meals. She recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden. Elements included potted herbs, lemon trees, vintage olive oil cans, ceramic plates, and table cards presented with palm leaves in limoncello cans.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden.
Aletiza Photo

Pashmina shawls hung from chairs to keep guests warm, and freshly baked pizzas and Aperol spritzes were in ready supply throughout the evening.

Stacy Teckin, the groom’s mother, hosted the party with her husband, Ian, and says she sought to pull off a dinner that made an impression on their guests. “The wedding was delayed because of Covid, and now that we had the chance to celebrate, we wanted to go all out,” Teckin says. “I’m not sure we would have done that before.”

In another example, acclaimed planner Norma Cohen threw a wild safari-themed bar mitzvah for a client.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon
Norma Cohen Productions

The memorable occasion transpired at Spring Studios in downtown Manhattan and saw 400 guests be transported to the African plains: Details included mammoth replicas of wildlife such as giraffes and elephants, servers in safari themed attire, and entertainment dressed like giraffes. The event was one of several over-the-top parties Cohen’s arranged recently.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon, one of the city’s most luxurious properties, also ranks high in Cohen’s memory.

Then there’s a destination party in London that Cohen planned for a client who was turning 40. It as a six-day affair with dinners at swanky spots such as Cipriani, the Arts Club, and Cecconi’s at Soho House. The finale was Lancaster House, a mansion in St. James, where guests were entertained by cabaret dancers from the famed Ibiza club Lio Ibiza and feasted on prime rib and lamb chops and imbibed on Krug champagne.

“People today don’t want to host events,” Cohen says. “They want experiences that take you away to a different place and make you forget that the real world exists.”