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South Africans Roelf and Ilze Alberts – he a money manager, she a psychologist – are huge Warren Buffett fans and Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. They combined their business with their passion last week to spend three days at author Bob Miles’ “Genius of Warren Buffett” course. It featured insights from a number of people who are close to the Oracle of Omaha, including daughter Susie and long time director Ron Olsen (Charlie Munger’s legal partner) who, as you’ll hear, engaged openly with participants. In this fascinating interview they pass on some of what was learnt. I’m going to book for 2015. – AH
ALEC HOGG: I’m with Roelf and Ilse Alberts here at the celebration dinner. I don’t know what you could call it. You guys were up at 4:00am this morning.
ILSE ALBERTS: Yes, so that we could queue from 5:00am.
ALEC HOGG: And you got good seats.
ROELF ALBERTS: Yes, we did.
ALEC HOGG: But it’s been a long week for you because you actually came right at the beginning. We arrive on Thursday and Friday for the Value Investors’ Conference, but you were actually here before.
ROELF ALBERTS: Yes, we arrived on Sunday so we started on Monday until Wednesday. We did ‘the genius of Warren Buffett’ for three days, and then the two days’ Value Investors’ Conference.
ALEC HOGG: That ‘genius of Warren Buffett’ sounds absolutely amazing. How did you hear about it?
ILSE ALBERTS: It was advertised as one of the offerings when you come to the Value Investors’ Conference.
ALEC HOGG: Okay.
ROELF ALBERTS: It was a precursor to the Value Investors’ Conference, also put together by Bob Miles who is the organiser of the Value Investors’ Conference.
ILSE ALBERTS: We were 30 people from 16 different countries.
ALEC HOGG: What did they teach you there? Who were the people who presented to you? Over three days…it’s quite a lot to learn.
ROELF ALBERTS: Alec, Bob put together a compilation of absolutely compilation of fantastic material ‘the genius of Warren Buffett. The subtitle is ‘the science of investing in the art of managing’ and he had different speakers coming in. They were managers from Berkshire Hathaway. We had Suzy Buffett coming in. We had Ron Olson coming in. He’s been a board member of Berkshire Hathaway for 20/25 years, so there’s a very interesting and nice compilation and we also did a couple of valuations. He would take Warren’s purchase and acquisitions he did and say ‘how much would we value it’ without showing us the price. After the valuation, he would show us what Warren paid for it, and it really gave us a good understanding of ‘the genius of Buffett’.
ALEC HOGG: It came off his tongue – Suzy Buffett. I think there are forty thousand people here in Omaha who would love to have met Suzy Buffett.
ILSE ALBERTS: We were allowed to have more than an hour with her so that we could ask her absolutely any questions. She was open, frank, and blunt about all the answers.
ALEC HOGG: Did she say anything about the book ‘Snowball’?
ILSE ALBERTS: No, we didn’t ask her about it, but one of the questions I asked for example, was what impact his wife had on him. People also ask how it was, growing up with him as a dad. She said it was just normal. He was an eight-to-five dad who worked from eight to five. He came home. She said that while they were growing up as children, he was not a billionaire, so he was just a normal dad.
ALEC HOGG: Did he not spend much time with them?
ILSE ALBERTS: No, she said she spent enough time with him. They didn’t feel that he was a busy dad who just focused on work.
ALEC HOGG: So he was a good dad, from what she said.
ROELF ALBERTS: He was a good dad, but what she also said is he was looking after the family/spending time with the family, but he was focused on what he was doing so he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve. He’s very comfortable with seven days a week. He doesn’t have a problem with that. She gave us some insight into his diet. I was surprised. It starts with Oreo cookies for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch, and then he’ll either have another hamburger for dinner and six cokes…popcorn and six cokes… He at least goes on the treadmill for one hour. He’s a brilliant dad, but he’s very focused. Even now, she says he works seen days a week. He literally goes into the office Saturdays and Sundays. I was quite surprised.
ALEC HOGG: How big is the office, given that they employ three hundred thousand people?
ROELF ALBERTS: I think the office is now between 20 and 25 people.
ILSE ALBERTS: Twenty-four work in the office at headquarters.
ALEC HOGG: It’s fascinating and I think we can probably go on forever on Suzy Buffett alone, but you mentioned Olson who is Charlie Munger’s partner in the law firm. How did he come across?
ROELF ALBERTS: Alec, he was very interesting. Olson has been working with Charlie for 30 years too, and he says that Charlie loves learning. He still reads ferociously at the age of 90. He loves coming into the office and sharing with them what he’s learning, so that interaction has been phenomenal. What Ronald also said is his life was structured and Charlie’s life was structured to support Warren. All of them are there to support Warren and Berkshire Hathaway, and to make sure they maximise all things and return on investments for all shareholders.
ALEC HOGG: That’s incredible. Warren was therefore always perhaps at the centre point of what they were doing, as well.
ILSE ALBERTS: Yes, one of the people who came to talk to us as well was Bob Blumkin – the grandson.
ALEC HOGG: Of Rose, from Furniture Mart.
ILSE ALBERTS: Of Rose – yes – and he told how Warren and Rose…how this all came together and showed us photos, and it was really an amazing story – the success of Nebraska Furniture Store.
ALEC HOGG: Did you go there? Did you buy much?
ILSE ALBERTS: Yes, we did buy. In fact, we see that as investing in our own company because we have Berkshire shares.
ALEC HOGG: Oh, you do, so you’re a shareholder as well.
ROELF ALBERTS: Yes, we are shareholders.
ALEC HOGG: Now Ilse, you’re a psychologist.
ILSE ALBERTS: Yes, I’m a psychologist.
ALEC HOGG: Now, how did you suss out, sitting through three days of learning about Warren Buffett, not only his investments, but also him as a person? What was your feeling when you…? You looked at it from a completely different angle.
ILSE ALBERTS: Yes, I came to this because we’re value investors but also because I really want to study the current trends of the most successful value investors. Things that really stood out for me were the humility and the humanity. They don’t pretend to be anything they’re not, and they focus highly on what is important to them. They’re not willing to compromise. If business is important to him, he goes into his office seven days a week, no matter who says what.
ALEC HOGG: Isn’t that bad?
ILSE ALBERTS: No, it’s neither good nor bad. At least he’s authentic to himself. They’re authentic. They really live the life. The love what they do and that’s a big gift they give to themselves, and whoever is around them.
ALEC HOGG: And that wonderful book that Carol Loomis wrote, ‘Tap Dancing to Work’…
ILSE ALBERTS: Yes, he tap dances to work. You can see that. That’s what his daughter Suzy said, that he’ll go in even on a Sunday. He follows his routine. Something else I saw as well is I think something we can all learn from: he really partners with the most magnificent people. He surrounds himself with people that support him in what is important to him.
ALEC HOGG: I think what you mentioned just a moment ago is very interesting, Roelf, that Ron Olson and Charlie Munger structured their lives to support Warren. Now, that’s not generally well known. Some will say the smarter one of the two is actually Charlie Munger.
ROELF ALBERTS: In today’s meeting, you could see Charlie’s influence. Many guys said Charlie was actually the favourite of the day. Charlie just has a phenomenal mind. He studied human behaviour intensely and he likes to bring in the other side of things. A few statements he made today were for example, he and Warren think so much alike that they might miss things, and those are statements… For example, the way he said CS Candy was decomposing the ignorance in helping them to get rid of the ignorance. Charlie has been a phenomenal influence and I think what Warren has done (both of them, actually) is find the right partners that they can partner with in the long to make sure that both of them achieve their objectives. Charlie is more of an introvert, a highly intelligent individual, and his focus is also a little bit different than Warren’s focus is. Warren’s focus is more the diplomat and the person who is more open about that.
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