Friday, May 2, 2014

The Four States of Warren Buffett & Walt Disney

This morning I received an item from LinkedIn's Pulse feature entitled The Four States of Warren Buffett and it felt very familiar. I'm posting an edited version of it here, for the purposes of comparing Warren with Walt. First, the commentary on Warren Buffett; (Thanks to Ankit and Akshay and the Stanford Launch class for Pulse!) 

People respond to authenticity: they need to know that a leader is everything they seem to be. They recoil from baseless bravado and overblown promise. Today all leaders are on under constant public scrutiny. 

One of the best places to see corporate brass is at their annual shareholder meetings. Some seem highly scripted and defensive affairs, with questions and answers anticipating every possible stockholder accusation or complaint. Buffett hires a stadium and conference centre for three days. He has dinner with them at his favorite restaurant. There are six hours of unscripted, no holds barred interaction. It is a positive conversation between management and shareholders. It is a celebration, rather than an interrogation. Its interaction at the most basic, human level.

When it comes to making big decisions, some leaders listen to their insticts, while others ignore it. Some even pass the tough choices to their advisers or simply pick the the lowest risk option. Warren Buffett knows how to follow his gut.  He has an instinct for value and knows that success usually comes with time, not in the moment. Over and over, he has listened to his gut instinct – informed by his vast research – to guide his business decisions. Buffett places a premium on tangible value, trusts his instincts and, with enviable patience, stays the course. 

Recruiting the right people to take with you on the journey is essential. Look for authentic, loyal people who are trustworthy and which you like being around. With staff like that, a leader can confidently empower them with responsibility and delegate the decision-making. Buffett's core team is just 24 people. He has complete trust in his operating managers to run the companies which he owns. Empowered workers with decision-making authority are the hallmarks of great leadership. It also enables you to profitably invest in your staff and give them freedom of movement they need to make their own decisions, accept the risks and deal with the outcomes of those decisions.

Real leaders are givers. For them, success is not about accumulation, it is about how you made your community a better place. How you stimulated positive views, encouraged people to be better and supported those who needed it. Warren Buffett is not about money. Whether he is lobbying President Obama to change unfair tax laws which allow him to paying 19 per cent while his staff are paying over 30, or committing 85 per cent of his fortune to support the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the essence of Warren Buffett is giving back to the community. Money is a by-product of Buffett's passion, rather than the core of his focus. 

Buffett was born August 30, 1930. Walt Disney was born December 5, 1901, in adjacent generations. Their "old fashioned" values of loyalty, decency and trust – so prevalent 100 years ago - are worth more today than ever before. Alex Malley suspects they are the true source of Warren Buffett’s wealth. I suspect that was true of Walt Disney as well.

At a time where the United States appears to live in the moment, when once it had the vision to land on the moon, it's worth considering Warren Buffett, the man, built a culture that will be his succession plan. He reminds the world that traditional values build hard working and big thinking economies.

With one minor exception about delegation, I suspect that if you went back thru this article and substituted "Walt Disney" for "Warren Buffet", the message would still ring true.

Here are some quotes from Walt on these same topics:


"I go right straight out for the adult. As I say, for the honest adult. I go for those people that retain that something, you know, no matter how old they are; that little spirit of adventure, that appreciation of the world of fantasy and things like that. I go for them. I play to them."

"I have no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous."


"When Walt Disney was making his films, he trusted his instincts and made films for himself, but they appealed to everybody, not just kids."  -  John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor of Walt Disney Imagineering.


"I don't pose as an authority on anything at all, I follow the opinions of the ordinary people I meet, and I take pride in the close-knit teamwork within my organization."

"No one person can take credit for the success of a motion picture. It's strictly a team effort. From the time the story is written to the time the final release print comes off the printer, hundreds of people are involved — each one doing a job — each job contributing to the final product. And — if the picture wins an award, the feeling of satisfaction... can rightfully be shared by each and everyone."

"In order to make good in your chosen task, it's important to have someone you want to do it for. The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements but rather with the things we do for people we love and esteem, and whose respect we need." 

"Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards — the things we live by and teach our children — are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings."

Here is one that I hadn't seen before this morning, which I particularly like:

The important thing is the family.  If you can keep the family together — and that's the backbone of our whole business, catering to families — that's what we hope to do.

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