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What’s your acquisition criteria? What has made you successful in this area where most others have failed?

We look for people who have a passion for their business. We frequently buy businesses the owners still manage, where they are monetizing a lifetime of work. They often don’t want to sell but need to for estate planning or other reasons.

They need to have a passion because we don’t have any employment contracts – because we don’t think they work – we don’t stand over them with whips, and they’re already rich. We just try not to kill or dampen their love for their business.

We also look for three things: intelligence, energy and integrity. If you don’t have the latter, then you should hope they don’t have the first two either. If someone doesn’t have integrity, then you want them to be dumb and lazy. (Laughter)

We look them in the eyes and ask, “Do they love the business or the money?” If someone wants to cash out, then we have a problem because we only have 16 people at Berkshire’s headquarters and can’t run it ourselves.

Munger: The interesting thing is how well it [our acquisition strategy/process] has worked over a great many decades, and how few people copy it. (Laughter)

We criticize it [acquisitions], but then we do it. But we have different motivations.

We’ve been reasonably successful in having people run their businesses with the same passion as before we bought them.

Gillette, the oil companies, etc. all went out and bought a lot of businesses and tried to run them themselves. We’re under no illusions that we can do that. We think that having lots of Executive Vice Presidents, directives from headquarters, centralized Human Resources etc. can destroy the incentives of the people who’ve already gotten rich, and we’re counting on them making us rich.

The successor to me will come from Berkshire, knows our system, has seen that it works, and will be surrounded by people who believe in it. So it’s not going to be so hard to keep this train going down the tracks at 90 miles per hour.

Munger: Our success has come from the lack of oversight we’ve provided, and our success will continue to be from a lack of oversight. (Laughter)

But if you’re going to provide minimal oversight, you have to buy carefully. It’s a different model from GE’s. GE’s works – it’s just very different from ours.]

We are a conglomerate – and we hope to become more of a conglomerate.

We’re successful because of simplicity itself: We let people who play the game very well keep doing it. Our successor won’t change this. The big worry is that the culture is tampered with and there’s oversteering. But our board and owners won’t allow this.

Source: Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting
Time: 2005

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