Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Whom would you rather meet: Buffett or Welch?

Back in business school, I had the opportunity to get some sage advice from Jack Welch. Actually, everyone at Stanford did. Welch was on the Bay Area leg of his book tour and held a special event where he was interviewed by dean of the business school in front of an audience. While the turnout was good, it was much lower than I would have anticipated. After all, Jack Welch is arguably one of the greatest businessmen alive. Was it because Welch had just admitted to having an affair with the editor of HBR? Was it dollar-beer-bust night at the Dutch Goose? Was everyone busy studying for the Non-Markets midterm (HIGHLY unlikely)? The tepid response got me wondering if Warren Buffett would have been a bigger draw.

I think the answer is YES and resoundingly so. There is a VERY popular finance class at Stanford which one must sacrifice their "silver bullet" to get into. I've heard from several people who did indeed sacrifice their bullet and took the class that the only reason they did so was because Buffett visits the class every other year (Munger comes on the off years). Why does Buffett have such a draw? Is it merely because he has a higher (albeit MUCH higher) net worth than Welch? Why is the financier held in awe but not the operator? I would argue that a member of the audience is more likely to hear something profound and directly applicable to his or her life listening to the greatest manager of PEOPLE versus a the greatest manager of MONEY. Plus, if students really wanted to meet Buffett that badly, all they have to do is buy a share of BRKb and attend the annual meeting. Of course, I average a 2% annual return on my money so perhaps I should have paid more attention to those finance courses after all. And if anyone can get me a one-on-one meeting with Buffett or Welch, I've got a red paper clip I can barter you.

In a complete non sequitur, we had the Finance Minister of Belgium host an open brown-bag lunch discussion which was attended by a whopping 10 students! I must admit, the main reason I went was to hear about the logistical difficulties of switching to the Euro (ATMs, vending machines, parking meters, etc.). I gave up trying to understand the business school Zeitgeist shortly thereafter.

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