The Snowball | Alice Schroeder

Summary of: The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
By: Alice Schroeder


Embark on an inspiring journey through the life of Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors of all time, in Alice Schroeder’s book, ‘The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life’. Explore Buffett’s unique philosophies on business, investing, and life, while learning how to navigate the stock market and spot undervalued opportunities. This illuminating summary delves into the hurdles and achievements that marked Buffett’s colorful life, beginning with his early knack for numbers and odds as an escape from a troubled childhood to becoming an investment maestro with an unwavering passion for success. Uncover the wisdom behind Buffett’s path to prosperity and learn how slow and steady can indeed win the race.

Warren Buffett’s Mathematical Escape

Warren Buffett’s love for numbers helped him escape the wrath of his overbearing mother and led him toward becoming one of the most successful investors in history.

Warren Buffett’s childhood was marked by the Great Depression and the overbearing presence of his mother, Leila. Despite his family’s ability to bounce back from the stock market crash, things were not easy for young Warren because of his mother’s tendency to blame and shame her children. To escape his mother’s wrath, Warren turned to numbers, odds, and percentages.

Warren’s love for mathematics and statistics was encouraged by his family members. He devoted hours to memorizing baseball statistics and playing bridge, a book on which was gifted to him by his aunt Alice. Warren’s passion for numbers led him to spend time at his father’s office, where he happily wrote the numbers of stock prices on the chalkboard.

As Warren grew older, his mathematical skills became more refined, and he began learning about investing. His love for numbers and his keen eye for value led him to become one of the most successful investors in history. Warren’s escape into numbers became the foundation for his investment philosophy and contributed significantly to his success.

Through Warren’s story, we learn that finding a passion can be a way to cope with challenging situations and can ultimately lead to great success.

Warren Buffett’s Early Money-making Ventures

Warren Buffett’s early entrepreneurial mindset and interest in money started when he was just a child. By the age of nine, he was already making money by selling gum and Coke to his neighbors, and by 11, he had saved up $120, which he used to make his first investment. He continued to find odd jobs, such as selling golf balls and renting out pinball machines, and later became a successful newspaper delivery boy, earning more than most of his teachers. By the age of 14, he filed his first tax return, citing his watch and bicycle as deductions, and paying a total of $7.00. Warren’s early experiences provided an important foundation for his future success in the world of finance.

The Beginnings of a Future Stockbroker

This summary highlights the early years of Warren Buffett, including his interest in finance, his messy lifestyle, and his education. He was once labeled a “Future Stockbroker” in his high school yearbook, and his interest in accounting and business naturally led him to the University of Nebraska. Despite his untidiness, Buffett had a remarkable ability to memorize entire sections of textbooks. Although he was rejected from the graduate program at Harvard Business School, he was accepted by Columbia University, where he studied under Benjamin Graham, the author of the book Intelligent Investor. Graham’s mentorship left quite an impression on Buffett, and he learned valuable investment strategies from his teachers, including the importance of investigating a company from top to bottom in order to determine its intrinsic value. This became the foundation of Graham’s cigar butt theory, which involved investing in undervalued businesses whose intrinsic values far exceeded their perceived value.

Warren Buffett – From Shy to Successful

Warren Buffett’s journey from a shy college student to a successful investor who built his own partnership is portrayed in the book. Despite being uncomfortable around women, Buffett enrolled in a public speaking class to boost his confidence, where he met Susie Thompson, whom he married in 1952. Buffett initially struggled to impress her due to his arrogance, but eventually, he won her heart. He worked at his dad’s old investment firm until he got his dream job at Graham-Newman. However, he soon realized that he hated being a stockbroker as he couldn’t risk someone’s hard-earned money. So, he founded his own partnership, Buffett Associates, Ltd. The partnership had simple rules behind every investment to avoid unrealistic expectations. Graham’s recommendation further boosted Buffett’s reputation.

Building the Snowball: Buffett’s Early Partnership Success

In his early years as a self-made entrepreneur, Warren Buffett started a series of eight partnerships based on different sets of friends who invested money with him. Each time, he emphasized his philosophy of investing only in undervalued stocks and reinvesting earnings in the same stocks. He believed in patient consistency, choosing not to cash out when stocks reached certain values but rather waited for them to grow. This proved successful, with his partnerships consistently outperforming the market. By the early 1960s, Buffett had amassed millions in managing money, still doing his own paperwork, but decided to dissolve his partnerships into one single entity. While gaining recognition in Wall Street, some doubted his success, but Buffett continued to thrive by sticking to his investment philosophy and earning a seat on boards to prevent executives from making foolish decisions with investors’ money.

Buffett’s Partnership with Munger

With the help of his friend and business partner Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett made significant gains in the stock market during the 1960s. Munger’s encouragement led Buffett to broaden his investment horizons beyond “cigar butt” stocks. In 1964, following a soybean scandal that hit American Express stocks hard, Buffett invested $3 million, then later $13 million, in the company. The investment paid off when American Express bounced back, yielding unprecedented rewards for the partnership. With the profits, Buffett was able to acquire entire businesses, including Berkshire Hathaway. After researching Berkshire Hathaway’s intrinsic value, Buffett became its controlling shareholder in 1965, earning him the title of millionaire by age 35.

Buffett’s Tough Business Decisions

Buffett’s determined efforts to make Berkshire Hathaway profitable despite challenges is highlighted, alongside his investment rules and strict investment strategy.

From his purchase of Dempster Mill Manufacturing in 1958 to his acquisition of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s investment philosophy has always been to avoid cutting losses. This meant that even though Berkshire Hathaway was far from profitable and presented several challenges, Buffett was determined to put the right person in charge and keep the business alive. Modernizing the company’s machinery was desperately needed in the 1960s and 70s, but since Berkshire Hathaway held no real promise of turning a profit, Buffett was hesitant to inject additional capital. Nonetheless, continuing to purchase winning stocks in its name every chance he got, eventually gave Berkshire Hathaway, one of the world’s best stock portfolios.

But Buffett’s success did not come without challenges. His involvement with Dempster Mill Manufacturing had gone south previously when he put the wrong management in charge and subsequently liquidated the company’s assets. This experience inspired him to make tough business decisions, including not getting involved with businesses that had potential “human problems” such as layoffs, plant closings, or a history of executive-labor union fights.

His strict investment strategy led him to avoid buying stock in any company that offered a product or service he didn’t understand, and to only involve himself with businesses that were easy, safe, profitable, and pleasant. This selectivity was due to his past experiences that reinforced the need to take calculated risks and avoid repeating past mistakes.

In summary, Warren Buffet’s tough business decisions and strict investment strategies helped him make Berkshire Hathaway profitable despite various challenges.

Buffett’s Best Investment

The success of Warren Buffet’s investment strategy wasn’t just about the businesses he acquired, it was about the people running them. Buffett sought out reliable management to ensure the success of his acquisitions and went as far as treating them like family. He even bought out his investment partners so he could focus on his personal life. Meanwhile, his wife Susie pursued her own passions in music and social activism while Warren briefly delved into politics.

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