7 Smart Things Business People Can Learn From Warren Buffett's Recent Q&A
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Investors flocked to Omaha, Neb., on Saturday for Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. Hosted by billionaire investor, chairman and CEO Warren Buffett and vice chairman Charlie Munger, the executives spent hours answering questions from shareholders. From money to retail to healthcare, they touched upon a diversity of today’s most relevant topics.
Check out these seven things business people can learn from Buffett at this year’s annual meeting.
1. As a CEO, act fast.
During the meeting, Buffett recalled the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal that unraveled late last year, highlighting where exactly the company went wrong.
Buffett broke down the scandal, pointing out the three biggest mistakes the company made: a poor incentive program, an irresponsible leader and underestimating its impact. However, the biggest mistake that Buffett mentioned was the company’s CEO at the time, John Stumpf, not acting quickly and effectively enough after he found out about the situation in 2012.
"It had to stop when the CEO learns about it," Buffett said.
2. Get involved in multiple projects.
Both Munger and Buffett praised Amazon.com founder and CEO, The Washington Post owner and Blue Origins founder Jeff Bezos. Buffett complemented the way Bezos has built Amazon and the ways he’s involved himself in his other non-Amazon projects.
“At The Washington Post, he's played that hand incredibly," he said. "He's been involved in the actual execution, not just bankrolling the operation."
3. Don’t focus too much on the economy.
Buffett isn’t too worried about the future of the U.S. economy. Although this is not a new idea for the investor, he did reiterate it at the annual meeting: “When the rest of the world is fearful, we know that America will come out fine,” he said.
"There will be an occasional hiccup in the American economy. It doesn't matter who is president," Buffett continued. "Those people may get blamed for it."
An economic downturn can also be helpful for some companies. For Berkshire Hathaway, a downturn in the economy can make investments look cheaper, Buffett explained.
4. Move online.
Touching upon the topic of retail, Buffett said he believes that big retailers will suffer as consumers transition from in-store shopping to online. "The department store is online now," Buffett said.
Even Buffett has taken action because of this, selling much of Berkshire Hathaway’s Walmart stock earlier this year.
"The world has evolved, and it's going to keep evolving, but the speed is increasing," Buffett concluded.
5. Tax cuts could help businesses, but don’t change because of them.
Buffett explained that a corporate and investment tax cut could help businesses such as Berkshire Hathaway, ultimately lowering their tax obligations. However, he doesn’t think they should have too much of an impact.
When asked about investing in capital projects if the government acts on its promised investment tax credit, Buffett said it “depends.” It’s important not to act too soon or change the way your business runs because of a potential change in the law. "I can't recall sending anything out to our managers saying 'let's do this because the tax law is going to change,’” he said.
Both Munger and Buffett agreed that businesses are unlikely to change their major investment decisions because of “some little tax jiggle.”
6. Healthcare impacts business.
Buffett shared his ideas on the healthcare system in the U.S., explaining higher healthcare costs hold back business growth, especially for international businesses who compete with countries that have lower rates of health care spending.
"Medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness," Buffett said.
Buffett shared how the American Health Care Act, which was passed on Thursday, would in fact benefit people like him.
"It's a huge tax cut for guys like me," he said. "The net effect of that act is that my federal income taxes would have gone down, down 17 percent, last year.”
7. Don’t miss an opportunity.
The Oracle of Omaha shared one of his business regrets: not buying Google stock when he had the chance. Buffett said he regrets not buying the stock before the company went public, and even after the IPO, when the company met with him.
“I knew the guys. And so I had plenty of ways to ask questions or anything of the sort and educate myself, but I blew it," said it.
Munger agreed, calling the missed opportunity their “worst mistake in the tech field.”