Note: This is not a transcript. No recording devices were allowed at the meeting, so this is based on many hours of rapid typing, combined with my memory. I have reorganized comments by subject matter. Words in [brackets] are my comments or edits.
For my columns and notes on previous Berkshire and Wesco meetings, click here.
CHARLIE MUNGER’S OPENING REMARKS
I feel a duty in these later years to talk a little bit because so many of you have come so far and therefore I’m going to talk a little about current change conditions in corporate governance, the investment world, how we’re adapting at Berkshire Hathaway and Wesco, and how you might face these challenges.
First, corporate governance. We’re having a mild revolution in corporate governance. Congress passed rules requiring that a majority of directors be independent, which has affected all kinds of companies, including Berkshire Hathaway and Wesco. At Costco, we added Bill Gates Sr. [actually, Bill Gates’s father is Jr. and Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, is Bill Gates III (hence the nickname “Trey”), but everyone calls them Sr. and Jr.] and Daniel Evans – I like to see young people joining the board. [Laughter. Gates and Evans are both 79 years old.]
I think it’s a plus at Berkshire Hathaway. We have a very able, brilliant group of shareholders. We pay a pittance but everyone we asked [to join our board] agreed to come aboard: Bill Gates, Sandy Gottesman, Tom Murphy, Don Keough, Charlotte Guyman – there’s a couple of billion dollars of Berkshire Hathaway stock in the Gottesman family.
Then they passed Sarbanes-Oxley, which creates all kinds of oaths and compliance procedures. One thing it caused was an enormous increase in costs. The auditors must certify the internal controls. At Berkshire Hathaway, including Wesco, this used to cost $200,000 but now it’s in the multiple millions. It’s not all wasted though – only about 80% is wasted. (Laughter)
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