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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long... but magnificent., 9 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (Kindle Edition)
If you're a fan of either Buffett's performance as a businessman, or of his aphorisms and lessons - or both - you're going to have to get used to one thing: there's a difference between what he says and what he does.

That's not a criticism - he describes his success as being the result of a few simple investment ideas and doing what he enjoys, but almost nobody has been able to replicate what he does. What he says is what he knows is best for who he's reaching out to (or teaching) - it can't be what he does, or it would be easy to replicate.

Alice Schroeder's authorised autobiography gives you a much, much better look at what he does than any previous Buffett book has (and there are literally dozens) in chronicling the complicated personal and business career of a giant.

He was a businessman from the start, selling chewing gum at 6, before moving up to cans of Coke, newspapers and weighing machines. He also learnt very young to get someone else to do the work for him, and for his capital and the allocation of it to be his leverage. By 15, he'd invested with his father in a hardware store.

He was a broker for a time until Benjamin Graham retired - but didn't like the fact you got paid for activity, not success. He was one of the very first hedge funders - taking 25% of the profits and reinvesting them in his own funds until the share market opportunities became harder to find, and buying companies outright was more lucrative.

The book details the "worst deal he ever made" - buying Berkshire Hathaway. It also runs through plenty of other bumps and bruises along the way that everyone has, his just being public, including a stint as the head of Salomon Brothers, strikes at the Buffalo News, and a series of insurance company mishaps.

All the great stories are in there: Charlie Munger, cocoa arbitrage, Blue Chip Stamps, American Express, Sees Candy, GEICO, the newspapers, Nebraska Furniture Mart, the insurance float, LCTM.

But, as the title alludes, nothing stopped the snowball rolling down the hill gathering money. A depression baby, he never overpaid a penny for anything. He never used any debt to leverage a purchase. Partly because of the price paid and the equity level, he never had a big loser. The other key to the snowball? In all the buying - it was always about money for him, not ego. That essence clarified all the decision making down to one thing: would he make money from it?

The story throughout is an amazing one if you've got an interest in business or investing. It's your best chance of seeing what he does - all the other Buffett books except American Capitalist are about what he says. It's long, but 5 stars.
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