the snowball
Alice Schroeder

My friend Miguel of http://www.simoleonsense.com/ conducted a great indepth interview with Alice Schroder the author of The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.
Miguel stated:

I know what you’re thinking, “Miguel I’ve read every book about Warren Buffett, I’ve been to the shareholder meetings, and I know more facts about Warren Buffett than Google.” My reply: more information does not equal more understanding. I am convinced that Alice has a better understanding of Warren Buffett than 99% of people . Next week I will prove it to you.

Miguel wrote:

The day has come and as promised I am releasing Part 1 of our interview with Alice Schroeder. Expect the remaining parts to be posted every morning for the next 5-6 days. Oh I almost forgot… pay particular attention to parts 2-4 as they will have some never before discussed topics regarding Warren Buffett.

Here are parts IIIIIIIVV, and VI

Below is a brief excerpt from Part VI

Miguel: How has Warren Buffett’s intellect surprised you over the years?

Alice: For example, he recognizes square roots and sometimes cube roots of very large numbers; which is slightly unnerving, especially when he starts telling you the square and cube roots of license plate numbers.

It’s something he does as a mild form of entertainment while driving.

More unnerving is that he remembers conversations that he has with you better than you do. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation –- where you realize the other person has asked you the same question some time ago. When Buffett does that, it’s often a test. He will ask very probing and penetrating questions and then 2 months later he will ask again and you know he remembers the exact words you said. It can feel a little like getting deposed, and it’s a bit spooky to have a human tape recorder sitting in front of you. He doesn’t have a photographic memory, but sometimes it feels close enough. And of course, he’s reading you emotionally at the same time, and you know it.

Please understand, this only happens occasionally. Most conversations with him are really enjoyable because they’re full of witty repartee and a download of information from his unusual brain.

Other interesting situations: I have seen him make his famous 5-minute decisions on the phone. Five minutes is the outside amount of time it takes him to make a decision. If the person can be succinct and convey the salient points in 60 seconds he’ll say, “Yes” or “No” in 60 seconds.

The time is determined by how long it takes the person to convey the salient points, not how long it takes him to think about it. It’s virtually instant once he has grasped the 2 or 3 variables or points that are important to him.

Typically, and this is not well understood, his way of thinking is that there are disqualifying features to an investment. So he rifles through and as soon as you hit one of those it’s done. Doesn’t like the CEO, forget it. Too much tail risk, forget it. Low-margin business, forget it. Many people would try to see whether a balance of other factors made up for these things. He doesn’t analyze from A to Z; it’s a time-waster.

Lastly, the speed of thought is so startling. Remember the 60 questions I started with the first time I interviewed him, which he covered in 45 minutes or so.

He later took me to Nebraska Furniture Mart carpet warehouse and started quoting how many yards they sell of each type of carpet each week and at x price and it costs y amount a yard and we mark it up at z. He was sprinting through the carpet warehouse pointing at roles of carpet and telling me which ones sell at what price.

I jogged alongside him with my jaw dragging behind me on the floor in disbelief.

I used to spend 4.5 days a week in Omaha, and I would be so wrecked by the time I got home it was unbelievable.

I thought it was me; then, when I started interviewing other people who are his friends and colleagues, they would tell me that they also needed time to recuperate after seeing him. Or that they could only take him in doses of 2 hours at a time.

The link to the rest of the interview is here.