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Buffett’s opinion of cigar butts vs quality businesses

Charles Munger: If See’s Candy had asked $100,000 more [in the purchase price; Buffett chimed in, “$10,000 more”], Warren and I would have walked — that’s how dumb we were.

Ira Marshall said you guys are crazy — there are some things you should pay up for, like quality businesses and people. You are underestimating quality. We listened to the criticism and changed our mind. This is a good lesson for anyone: the ability to take criticism constructively and learn from it. If you take the indirect lessons we learned from See’s, you could say Berkshire was built on constructive criticism. Now we don’t want any more today. [Laughter]

The qualitative [evaluating management, competitive advantage, etc.] is harder to teach and understand, so why not just focus on the quantitative [e.g., cigar butt investing]? Charlie emphasized quality [of a business] much more than I did initially. He had a different background.

It makes more sense to buy a wonderful business at a fair price. We’ve changed over the years in this direction. It’s not hard to watch businesses over 50 years and learn where the big money can be made.

Even when you get a new important idea, the old ideas are still there. There wasn’t a strong line of demarcation when we moved from cigar butts to wonderful businesses. But over time, we moved.

Source: Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting
Time: 2003

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