3 incredible advantages investment pros have at Berkshire Hathaway

Working for Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) sounds like a dream job for investment professionals.

And benefits extend well beyond having access to the greatest investor of all time.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, Buffett’s investment deputies, Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, share how working at Berkshire differs from working at another money management firm.

Three things that are particularly great: 1) time to read, 2) few interruptions, and 3) unparalleled access to industry insiders.

“Our day job is reading”

“Our day job is reading,” Weschler said. “I spend the vast majority of my day reading. I try to make about half of that reading random. Things like newspapers and trade periodicals.”

He reads Handelsblatt (the English version), the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He also reads the local newspaper of the city he wakes up in each day. Weschler works two days in Omaha and spends the rest of his time in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Combs estimates that he spends 80% to 90% of his time straight reading, whether it’s combing through SEC filings, scanning conference call transcripts, and devouring a couple of dozen trade magazines. For him, the reading commences when he gets into Berkshire’s offices on Farnam Street at 7 or 8 a.m.

“I read until about 7:00 or 8:00 at night,” Combs said. “And I go home, and see my family, and then I’ll read for another hour or two in bed at night.”

Newspapers (Flickr / Jon S)

Buffett commented that Weschler and Combs were the only two guys he and Munger could find that read as much as they do.

Buffett and Munger aren’t the only seasoned investment pros who believe in the power of reading. In fact, you’d have a hard time finding a successful investor who’d argue otherwise.

Value investor Guy Spier of Zurich-based Aquamarine Capital, who won a charity lunch with Buffett, told Yahoo Finance that he spends most of his day reading both on the screen and off the screen.

“I’m quite certain both the quality and the volume of my reading will have an enormous impact on my returns (and more generally on my success in life.),” Spier wrote in an email. “I think that I’m trying to get it right which is a great start, but there is enormous room for improvement.”

Whitney Tilson of Kase Capital spends about 12 or more hours per day reading, starting his day with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

“As for books, over the past two decades, with the rise of email and the internet, I’ve read fewer and fewer books (it’s a struggle just to keep up with the deluge of incoming emails!),” Tilson wrote in an email to investors and followers last year.

“But then a year ago I discovered Audible.com – i.e., listening to books, rather than reading them,” he continued. “Now, rather than listening to music (or nothing at all) when I’m exercising, riding around the city on my bike (only in one ear!) and in the car (rarely, as I don’t drive much), I listen to a book. Plus, I’ve trained myself to listen at high speed – generally at the maximum 3x. Thus, I can listen to most books (~12 hours at normal speed) in only four hours. As a result, I’ve gone from reading only a few books a year to one a week on average, which has changed my life (seriously!).”

Having the time to read is a luxury for most investment professionals. For the average pro, the day is often interrupted by phone calls and meetings with bosses, analysts, and clients.

“Very, very few interruptions”

There doesn’t seem to be much micromanaging going on at Berkshire either.

“There might be only three to four phone calls the entire week,” Combs said. “So there’s very, very few interruptions.”

 

Berkshire Hathaway investment managers Todd Combs, left, Ted Weschler, right, and Tracy Britt Cool, Chairman of Berkshire companies Benjamin Moore, Johns Manville, Oriental Trading Company and Larson-Juhl, center. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Combs also pointed out that you’re not beholden to monthly reporting like many fund managers.

“I get asked a lot how my life has changed from before to after,” Combs said, “Absent moving to Omaha, in terms of performing the investing function day to day, very little has actually changed. Except the removal of some friction in terms of the fact that, you don’t have monthly reporting and LPs. And we have the benefit of permanent capital, and so forth.”

There are very few conference calls. There are no meetings at Berkshire.

“Warren’s done a great job of removing all the friction costs,” Combs said.

One meeting the young deputies do attend each week is a Monday lunch with Buffett. These lunchtime discussions tend to be about Berkshire Hathaway’s culture and things that have happened to Buffett during his investment career.

There’s almost no industry that Berkshire doesn’t touch

Berkshire Hathaway is a massive global conglomerate. Wholly owned companies in the portfolio include railroad giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe, food maker Kraft Heinz, underwear maker Fruit of the Loom, and numerous industry-leaders in insurance, real estate, industrial parts, furniture, and even candy.

Warren Buffett surveys a model railroad prior to participating in the annual shareholders meeting, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

And you’d bet the CEOs of these companies answer the phone when headquarters calls.

“There’s almost no industry that Berkshire doesn’t touch in one form or another,” Weschler said. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve been looking at something where I can pick up the phone and call [an executive at one of these companies].”

Most investors might have to get information by setting aside a couple of hours or days to do some research. Not at Berkshire Hathaway.

“If it’s in any one of their adjacent industries, and they know more about it— in 15, 30 minutes [I would learn more than] I would be able to accumulate in a lifetime,” Weschler said.

And on top of all that, they get to meet with Warren Buffett every week.

Yahoo Finance will host the exclusive live stream of Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting on May 6, 2017.


Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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