What’s Warren Buffett’s Secret To Great Writing? by Lawrence Cunningham
As directors increasingly ponder writing letters to shareholders, many turn to the gold standard. They wonder what most distinguishes Warren Buffett’s annual missive to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. Clarity, wit and rationality are hallmarks to emulate, along with how Buffett personally pens lengthy sections to read more as literary essays than corporate communications.
But these attractive qualities are products of a deeper distinction with greatest value. Every Buffett communiqué has a particular motivation: to attract shareholders and colleagues—including sellers of businesses—who endorse his unique philosophy. Tenets include fundamental business analysis, old-fashioned valuation methods, and a long time horizon.
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A recurring motif of Buffett’s writing is the classic rhetorical practice of disagreement. Buffett recites conventional wisdom along with multiple reasons why it is inaccurate or incomplete. He then differentiates Berkshire with themes like autonomy, permanence, and trust.
In a new article (available free here), parsing recent examples shows that Warren Buffett’s dispatches often work on several levels simultaneously. Think of circles on a dartboard, with the bull’s-eye as Berkshire’s distinctive practices, which Buffett relentlessly explains. Surrounding that core explication, in concentric circles, Buffett lauds specific Berkshire businesses or personnel, contrasts their industry or competitors, and opines on related public policy debates.
By arguing in this artful manner, Buffett hones Berkshire’s corporate culture while answering rivals and critics alike. Leaving an unmistakable effect on the conglomerate’s millions of owners, managers, and employees, Buffett’s essays are a model of tone-at-the-top governance. Read more here.
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Warren Buffett chose Lawrence Cunningham in 1996 to compile his famous shareholder letters into the book, The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, now in its 4th edition and sold worldwide in a dozen languages.