That same summer I wrote a birthday letter to Buffett. July 18, 2003:
Mr. Warren E. Buffett
Chief Executive Officer
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68131
Dear Mr. Buffett;
From the reaction of my friends, I guess it’s unusual to hang a picture of a seventy-two, and soon to be seventy-three year old man, on my wall. Unlike my friends who have pictures of sunbathing beach babes, I have chosen one of my heroes.
After working on a mid-term paper into the night, and chugging five of the six Cherry Cokes in a pack, I looked up to see my inspiration. While I’m trying my best to follow in your tracks, I haven’t yet figured out how you were able to procrastinate on papers and study Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, all while setting the curve on class exams. I may wish otherwise, but I most certainly don’t have the brainpower to imitate your undergraduate habits, and as Yogi Berra said, “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” Unable to answer the question myself, I gathered my courage and shareholder’s rights, sat in the second row of the annual Westco meeting and asked Mr. Munger the best way to follow his partner’s tracks. Your partner quipped that many young people ask how to become wealthy like him, only faster. Instead, slug it out, step-by-step everyday, suggested the Westco Chairman once the laughter subsided; this advice will do. True, your wealth probably won’t be achieved by someone with less candlepower but the wisdom is exact; everyone works according to their best light and, thankfully, the measure of our success doesn’t depend on a comparison with either you or Mr. Munger. Success depends on the careful execution of our life plan.
I cherish your teachings about character. For example, in my junior year of high school, I listed the traits that I found admirable and objectionable. Motivated by the fear of ruining a twenty-year reputation in five minutes, forging strong habits now becomes a bit easier. I’d rather read about other people’s blunders in the headlines, not my own. As a young man, practicing the right habits can be tough, but it is better to lay the foundation now than see the house tumble later. Like value investing, a successful character is the result of slow, patient attention; “faster” has nothing to do with it.”
So happy birthday, Mr. Buffett. A lifetime of patient investing in character and intrinsic value has yielded wealth, success and happiness. You’ve demonstrated the perfect mental model: Success is getting what you want, and happiness is wanting what you get. In my essay for the application to the University of California at Los Angeles, I compared your advice on the qualities of character to the teachings of another one of my heroes, basketball coach, John Wooden. I was accepted, and I’m tap dancing to each class.