William Green: The Great Minds Of Investing – Interview by Investing By The Books
William Green is an author and journalist. His new book, The Great Minds of Investing, features his profiles of many famous investors, including Bill Ackman, Joel Greenblatt, Howard Marks and Marty Whitman. Before that, William collaborated with Guy Spier on his memoir, The Education of a Value Investor. William has written for many publications in the U.S. and Europe, including Time, Fortune, Forbes, The New Yorker, The (London) Spectator and The Economist.
He has reported all over the world. He has interviewed many leading figures from some of the world’s largest companies, and countless multibillionaires. Over the years, he has written investigative features; profiles; columns about global markets and investing; and reviews of everything from art exhibitions to novels. Born and raised in London, William studied English literature at Oxford University before moving to New York City, where he received a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York.
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William Green's Interview
IBB: William, we want to extend lots of gratitude to you for, most importantly, putting this book together, but then also for taking time out of your day to answer a few of the number of questions we had after spending time with your wonderful book! We love the story from the prologue about how “The Great Minds of Investing” came about. It seems so doable for anybody, yet so far away. And the saying “there is no I in team” has rarely been truer, where the line between who-contributed-what in your book project seemed very blurry indeed. So, with that, let´s get started with our questions:
Most books are the result of a true team effort, where many people contribute “behind the cover”. But with this book it is fair to say that the team effort really takes center stage, with Michael O´Brien´s photography being the starting point of the whole project. What differential aspect did this bring to the profile-writing part of the book? These persons are mainly living by their word, now pictures are telling half the story…
William Green: The book really came into existence because of Michael O’Brien’s extraordinary photographs. He launched the project five years ago by creating a stunning portrait of Charlie Munger. Since then, Michael has created iconic portraits of everyone from Warren Buffett to Irving Kahn, who was 108 years old at the time. But Michael felt that his portraits needed to be accompanied by written profiles as the photographs only tell part of the story of who these great investors are. I was thrilled to join forces with him because his portraits have a wonderful intimacy and humanity to them. When you look into the eyes of someone like Buffett or Munger or Bill Miller, you feel as if you’re looking into their souls because they’re so deeply engaged with the camera.
I think Michael was right that it adds tremendous richness to the book when you combine written profiles with photographs. The profiles bring a whole other dimension because they give you an opportunity to explain who these investors are, how they achieved so much, how they view the world, and what we can learn from them—not just about investing but about life. In the end, I wrote 22 profiles and edited 11 others by excellent writers like Amy Feldman, Joan Caplin, Peter Carbonara, Birgit Wetjen and Gisela Baur (who has interviewed Buffett countless times over 20 years). So, as you say, this truly is a team effort. Another key player was D.J. Stout, who’s a partner at a legendary design firm called Pentagram. D.J. oversaw the design of the book and is responsible for the fact that, physically, it’s a thing of beauty.
IBB: Having so many people intimately involved in the book (photographer, you, the producer/financier, other profile writers…), how did you agree on things?
William Green: It wasn’t always easy, but it helped that Michael and D.J. are not only hugely talented, but are fantastic people. It turned out that D.J. is also a surprisingly gifted diplomat. After resolving one particularly contentious debate, he joked that next he was going to work on bringing peace to the Middle East! I used to edit the Asian, European, Middle Eastern and African editions of TIME magazine, so I’m used to the fact that the creative process is intense, especially when you’re racing to do great work on a tight deadline. But in the end, we were all incredibly happy with the book. To me, the whole project was a great reminder of why Buffett places such a high value on working with gifted people whom he likes and trusts.
The Great Minds of Investing by William Green
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