As the forty-second largest city in the U.S. – Omaha has a lot going for it. Some consider it a small city – others think of it as a big town. Either way, the city is home to five Fortune 500 companies. Each year it hosts the College World Series. Creighton University leads a list of over ten institutions of higher learning. Its Midwest values include a strong work ethic, friendly people, an easy pace to name a few.
The charm and appeal of Omaha – its essence – hasn’t changed a great deal over time. It is essentially the same as it was in August of 1930 when a stockbroker and his wife welcomed a son into their family. The only boy – and middle child – he showed an aptitude for numbers early in his life. He often visited his father’s brokerage house writing stock prices on the chalk board. His first investment came at the age of eleven – the stock price nose-dived and when it rebounded he sold for a very modest profit. By the age of thirteen he was a full-fledged businessman running a paper route and selling tip sheets for the horse races. Not only did he file his first tax return that year, he claimed his bicycle as a business deduction.
When he was a teen his father was elected U.S. Congressman and the family moved to Virginia. There, he and a friend bought a pinball machine for $25.00, placed it in a barbershop and used its profits to buy two more machines. That business sold to a war veteran for $1,200.00. At the age of sixteen he enrolled at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, transferred to the University of Nebraska two years later and graduated at the age of twenty. Not only had he earned a diploma – he had amassed nearly $10,000 from his business initiatives by that point.
He was dissuaded from pursuing his idea of seeking employment on Wall Street. Rather he returned to Omaha, working as a stock broker, Through the 1950’s he got married, bought a house for $31,500 and began several investment partnerships. When it came to investing, his basic philosophy was to find undervalued stocks – stocks whose price was low compared to its intrinsic worth – an approach known as value investing.
He believed there were several drivers of success including – a commitment to continuous learning – associating with smart, talented and inspired people – communicating effectively – practicing patience. These beliefs – coupled with his business acumen led to his becoming a millionaire in his early thirties – and a billionaire before he was sixty. Today his estimated worth is $73.3 billion making him the second wealthiest man in the U.S. and the fourth wealthiest in the world. His company has an estimated value of $350.0 billion making it the fifth most-valuable public company in the States. The share price of over $200,000 makes it the highest priced stock of any public company.
Yes, these are phenomenal – almost incomprehensible – numbers but they are not the definition of a fearless brand. Rather, they are the results of Warren Buffett – the Oracle of Omaha – being a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands are defined by their value – the results follow.
Warren Buffett may be the most successful and well-known investor in the world. In spite of his fame and fortune, Buffett has remained essentially unchanged. He is fundamentally all business all of the time, yet he is affable and likable. There is a humbleness about him – seemingly a ‘regular guy’ – that reflects his Midwestern upbringing. He still lives in the same house he purchased back in 1957. Not surprisingly he believes that temperament is a more important factor for investors than intellect.
The investment he made at the age of eleven taught him lessons he has never forgotten. He bought the three shares of a stock at $38 each – the price quickly plummeted to $27. Eventually the stock rebounded and when it hit $40, he sold for a small profit. Shortly afterwards the stock hit $200 per share. That ‘lost profit’ taught him to be patient – to have conviction in his decisions. Yet he won’t stay too long either. He says that if you’re in a leaky boat it might be better to invest in a new boat rather than investing in patching the holes.
Often his beliefs – and actions – seem to be in stark contrast to some widespread beliefs. By example, he decries diversification as protection against ignorance. He doesn’t get caught up in the latest high momentum investments – rather he remains committed to his basic philosophies and stays focused on businesses and industries he is able to evaluate within the circle of his own competence.
There is much to learn about how to build your own fearless brand from Warren Buffett – even though virtually none of us can match his wealth or fame. Regular readers of this blog know that fame and fortune are not requisites to being a fearless brand. My recent post about Jason Brown and a much earlier post on my brother David bear that out. A fearless brand is just that – regardless of wealth or fame. As Buffett would say, be open to learning and doing so from people who are bright and motivated. Let’s look at two of Buffett’s quotes –
“Long ago, Ben Graham taught me that ‘Price is what you pay; value is what you get’.” Buffett looks for great value in his investments. Building a fearless brand is about creating – and delivering – maximum value. The greater the value you deliver, the greater price you will command.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Buffett understands that building a brand is a long-term proposition – yet that effort can be shattered in virtually no time. There’s an old adage in branding which says – If you don’t manage your own brand, someone else will. Be proactive in building and managing your brand. Treat your brand as Buffett treats his investments – after all, your brand is your greatest asset.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Warren Buffett’s investment philosophies, his political beliefs or his philanthropic practices – take his advice. Be open to learning from those who are already successful – and Warren Buffett easily qualifies as successful when it comes to building a fearless brand – and so much more.