- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

Warren Buffett is the face of the company and Charlie Munger stays mainly in the shadows.

That works well for the two billionaires, who together have developed one of the most successful investment records ever.

But while Mr. Munger downplays his own contributions - he is known for repeating “I have nothing to add” after Mr. Buffett’s expansive comments at the Berkshire shareholder meetings - his role is key to much of the company’s success.

Mr. Buffett himself credits Mr. Munger with pushing him beyond his early investing strategies and says the two men have never had an argument - even though they occasionally disagree.

Mr. Munger’s influence as vice chairman of Berkshire is considerable, but mostly private.

“He strikes me as somebody who is just a very good sounding board for Warren,” said Morningstar analyst Justin Fuller.

Berkshire’s board has a plan in place to select a new management team for the time when Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger are gone, but whoever takes over the company will have a hard time matching their success and synchronicity.

Mr. Munger answers questions alongside Mr. Buffett for hours each May at the Berkshire shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., and again on his own at the annual meeting in California of Wesco Financial Corp., a Berkshire subsidiary that he leads.

Mr. Buffett sometimes relies on Mr. Munger to repeat questions because his hearing is better. After one shareholder asked a lengthy question this year about how Mr. Buffett got started investing and what mindset an investor should have, Mr. Buffett turned to Mr. Munger for help.

So Mr. Munger summed it up: “He wants you to instruct him how to become less like a lemming.”

When Mr. Munger does weigh in, he often cuts through Mr. Buffett’s longer answer to its heart. And sometimes he critiques Mr. Buffett’s response.

“Well, that was real useful advice,” Mr. Munger said this year after Mr. Buffett answered a question about choosing good managers by saying Berkshire buys businesses with strong management teams in place. Then he compared that to saying the best way to get through lean times is to keep a couple million dollars lying around.

He can get away with rebuking the world’s richest man because they’ve been friends for nearly 50 years.

Mr. Munger, who at 84 is seven years older than Mr. Buffett, grew up in Omaha about five blocks from Mr. Buffett’s current home. Both men worked at the grocery store Mr. Buffett’s grandfather and uncle ran.

By the time they met at an Omaha dinner party in 1959, Mr. Munger was practicing law in Southern California and Mr. Buffett was running an investment partnership in Omaha.

Story Continues →