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Warren Buffett mourns passing of Berkshire 'architect' Charlie Munger

Published 24/02/2024, 18:49
Updated 24/02/2024, 18:50
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger walks past a crowd at the annual Berkshire shareholder shopping day in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 3, 2019.   REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Warren Buffett left no doubt: He misses Charlie Munger, and so will Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRKa)'s shareholders.

Buffett on Saturday devoted a special section of his annual shareholder letter to Munger, who died in November at age 99.

The 93-year-old Buffett called his long-time business partner a key driver behind what has become his more than $900 billion, Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate.

"Charlie was the 'architect' of the present Berkshire, and I acted as the 'general contractor' to carry out the day-by-day construction of his vision," Buffett wrote.

Jim Shanahan, an Edward Jones analyst who covers Berkshire, called that a "profound compliment" from arguably the world's most revered investor.

"Buffett gave Charlie Munger a lot of credit for Berkshire's success and his personal success," he said. "Without his wisdom and guidance, Buffett wouldn't have been as successful as he has been."

Munger's death deprived Buffett of his closest confidante of more than 60 years, the last 45 as a Berkshire vice chairman.

The two grew up at the same time in Omaha, though Buffett did not meet Munger until 1959.

Under their leadership, Berkshire became the owner of dozens of businesses such as Geico insurance and the BNSF railroad and holder of more than $350 billion in stocks led by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Munger was known for his common-sense, witty and occasionally acerbic maxims.

"Envy is a really stupid sin," he said in 2003, "because it's the only one you could never possibly have any fun at."

But he also became known as the person who changed Buffett's attitude toward investing.

Buffett credited Munger with convincing him to buy "wonderful companies at fair prices instead of fair companies at wonderful prices" -- the latter of which Buffett has referred to as "cigar butts" because their businesses might still contain puffs of smoke.

Calling him Berkshire's "architect" alluded to Munger's passion for architecture, including designing buildings.

Buffett also recalled Munger's relative modesty, saying Munger was okay with letting him "take the bows and receive the accolades" while serving more as an older brother or loving father.

One place Munger shared the stage was at Berkshire's annual meeting, where he and Buffett would sit before tens of thousands of shareholders -- and millions more online -- fielding shareholder questions and often finishing each other's thoughts.

Munger's death means Buffett will likely share the stage at this year's May 4 annual meeting only with Vice Chairman Greg Abel, who is slated to eventually become chief executive, and Vice Chairman Ajit Jain.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger walks past a crowd at the annual Berkshire shareholder shopping day in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 3, 2019.   REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

James Armstrong, who leads Henry H Armstrong Associates in Pittsburgh and has owned Berkshire stock for more than 35 years, said Buffett's letter was an apt epitaph for Munger and what he meant to Berkshire.

"Charlie's impact was huge," he said. "It may not have been understood by the public, but it is now."

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