Charlie Munger And Carl F. Braun Via JollyJumper324, Corner of Berkshire & Fairfax Message Board
I'm a long-time BRK fanatic and board member, but haven't posted in years. Recently I've been trying to follow the breadcrumbs that Munger has left us in his speeches to have a deeper understanding of human misjudgment. Re-reading Poor Charlie's Almanack, I remembered Munger's mention of Carl Braun and his admiration for Braun's corporate culture. I started doing some digging, but found surprisingly little has been written about this company or its managers. I ran into Guy Spier at the FFH AM and asked him if he had any insight into Braun. I sent the below email to him afterwards to let him know what I'd found. I forwarded the email to Norm Rothery too, who encouraged me to share with the board so here it is. If anyone out there has more insight into the Braun corporate culture, inter-office communication policies or accounting system, I'd love to hear about it.
You may remember me as the Indian guy with glasses who sat in front of you at the Fairfax AGM and cornered you to grill you on Carl Braun and the Moonies as it relates to a Mungerian understanding of human misjudgment while you were trying to make a break for the toilet.
For reference, Munger talked about Braun in this talk.
I did a bit of digging and came up with some stuff. Thought I'd share it with you.
It seems like the entire family were fanatics. I found the following anecdotes from ex-employees on this LinkedIn group.
"I remember all the slots on the screws throughout the facility had to be straight vertical."
"I began getting Christmas cards from suppliers and taped them on the wall. The next morning they were sitting on my desk in a neat pile. I assumed they had fallen down so I again taped them with more tape. The next morning they were sitting on my desk with a poorly written note saying if they were on the wall again I was fired and signed 'guard'."
"When Larry started there in 1965, you could only have one piece of paper on your desk at a time. One family photo. No plants or other decor."
"Remember having to staple all your papers from the backside so that the staple wouldn't scratch the desktop?"
"You had to wear white (maybe pastel blue) shirts. I have a copy of a memo from '74 allowing pastel colored shirts."
"I had heard that Carl Braun had talked to a young engineer about his hair being too long. The engineer said he didn't have enough pay to always get haircuts. So Braun went to payroll and increased his pay by $2.00 a month or something and told him to get it cut."
"Another story was when the retaining wall along the main walkway through the campus was constructed, Carl was out "inspecting" the work. He "sighted" down the wall, then found a foreman to tell him that the wall was not where it should be and to relocate it. The foreman, like any of us, had some doubt. He checked where the wall should be on the drawings, measured it and found it was out by one inch! The wall was moved!"
"One day, I was driving in to C.F. Braun and had basically had enough of the "you must dress the Braun way." So when I parked my VW bus, I grabbed my "tweed" jacket, put it on in the parking lot and decided to walk in the building where I worked without putting on a tie. Well, needless to say, the "agents" of the "secret society" intercepted me by the time I reached my desk. Was I shocked, you bet! I couldn't believe I was seen without my tie. The "agents" told me to not let it happen again and said to drive back home and get one. So I drove all the way back to Long Beach for my tie. They said they would let it slide this time and not dock my pay."
"Even as a Computer Operator, a matching suit with tie and white shirt was the standard outfit and you could be sent home if attire was not proper OR if your hair was too long. Facial Hair would be grounds for termination."
There's plenty more on the LinkedIn group. Seems like it was a crazy place.
For more on the culture at CF Braun, there's this "Information Week" article.
It seems that the books that were written by Braun for the employees were referred to informally as the "red books" due to the color of the binding. I was able to get electronic copies of a few of the "red books". You can read some of them here.
I'll get around to them eventually. They don't seem very long. Braun also wrote one book on accounting (Objective Accounting: A Problem of Communication) that Munger referenced specifically. I ordered that one off of Amazon and am particularly interested in reading it. I'll let you know if there's anything interesting in it.
The gist so far seems to be that CF Braun was out-Japanesing the Japanese before anyone had heard about "5S" or "Kaizen". The company was fanatical about standardization, neatness, waste and professionalism.
Hope you're well and that you had a good time in Toronto.