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Li Lu’s Reflections On Reaching Fifty

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Via Whitney Tilson

3) My friend and fellow value investor, Li Lu, who works with Charlie Munger in Pasadena, just turned 50 (a milestone I will reach, kicking and screaming, on 11/1) and posted this on his Facebook page (shared with permission):

Reflections On Reaching Fifty

Li Lu April, 2016

I was born in April of 1966, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Soon after, my parents and grandparents all lost personal freedom simply for being intellectuals. So I spent most of my childhood rotating between adopted families of peasants and coalminers. From that “promising” start, looking back, I’m amazed as to the long journey that I have taken to bring me here today in America.

I could never image that life would turn out this way. It takes countless bridges, roads, means of transportation, and years of effort to travel this far. The countless people in my life — kind-hearted strangers, well-wishers, mentors, partners, friends — are my bridges, roads, transportations for getting here. Without your help, friendship, and constant encouragement, I simply couldn’t travel this far. So on my fiftieth birthday, my heart is filled with gratitude to all of you, all of my friends, here and elsewhere. From the bottom of my heart — thank you thank you and thank you!!!

If I have anything to do with that journey, it is simply that I took it. Woody Allen is right, 90% of success is to show up. At various stages in my life, I could have stopped, or took the long rest. For some reason, my heart told me otherwise. I just kept going. Half of the time, I wasn’t sure where I was heading. The other half I was probably taking the wrong turns. No matter.

But I was on high alert to correct mistakes along the way. I was careful not to be influenced by emotions that I know are poisonous and counter-productive to the journey I want to take; things like envy, resentment, hatred, jealousy, greed and self-pity. I certainly wasn’t born with immunity to this side of human nature. In fact, my early life experiences may require me to work even harder than others to guard against these human vulnerabilities. And when I did fall for their prey, or when I took a wrong turn, I was fortunate to be able to correct them quickly. Socrates was right, unexamined life is not worth living, certainly not living well. Every once in a while, I would sit down alone to figure out where I might be wrong. Sometimes, what is wrong today is what was right in the past. As circumstances change, so should we. In my experience, every five to ten years or so, I had to change so much of myself that at times it felt like almost a reinvention. I’ve been blessed with the faculties of rationality that help me to form the habit of self-examination. And when I fail in self-examination, I’m even more blessed to have some strong friends who can point out my blind spots. I would have been lost in life’s various mazes if I had not gotten that help.

So through the tumbling and zig-zags, I kept going while at all time insisting on sitting in the driver’s seat. It is my life and my journey after all.

And now that I have made it through the first half, it is time to examine again for the second half.

According to Confucius, at fifty, one should know his purpose in life mandated by Heaven above. In other words, what your life was meant to be. Having been very close to fatality a few times in my life, forgive me if I say I actually believe in Confucius’s dictate. Having done relatively well in additions in life, I’m slowly learning the art of subtraction and focus.

I will fail in a lot of professions. For example, I won’t be good at ballet or basketball for that matter. My temperament and experiences prepared me well for a career in investment. I was extremely lucky to be introduced into the field by the greatest investor who ever lived when I accidentally stepped into a lecture by Warren Buffett at Columbia nearly 25 years ago. And it was even more magical 13 years ago when Charlie Munger became my investment partner, mentor and life-long friend. To this day, I don’t know to what I would attribute this extreme fortune. It is something even the wildest imagination or the best fiction could not conjure.

Now that I have compiled a record of my own for over twenty years, still enjoy the game even better than when I started, I think I will simply continue. I’m curious to see how long I can follow the great record set by my teachers, Warren and Charlie, that is by now well over fifty years. Not for the size of asset under management, not for the fees, just keep a score card the way a golfer would after each round and after a life-long career. So value investing is likely a life-long pursuit for me.

Having lived my life so far nearly evenly divided between the US and China, I’ve come to learn something unique about the two countries, cultures and myself. For years, I struggled to fit my own identity into both, often with poor results. It is as if the two cultures ran in different parts of my body — constantly fighting each other for supremacy. But I have learned tremendously in the process. In my 40’s, the two cultures finally came to peace with one other inside me, and I have come to identify myself as both 100% Chinese and 100% American simultaneously. And better still 1+1 is greater than 2. Through the culture lenses of both, I now see a few things neither Chinese nor Americans can see easily. That gives me a unique perspective of looking at both countries, and therefore able to tell one’s story better to the other, and then some more. Indeed, I think 1+1=11 in this case. Therefore, I feel it is both a duty and a pleasure to do so for the country and people that I love most. So this will be another thing I will focus on the second half of my life.

I have three lovely children. They are beautiful, talented and kind-hearted. I’m most proud of them. I love them so much that I will never want to burden them with a large amount of inherited wealth. Instead, I’d love to have my girls join Eva and me in giving responsibly to make the world a better place. In particularly, we want to focus on things I have some knowledge of and care deeply about — to make US and China understand each other better and to make quality education more available to deserved young people.

Lastly, reaching 50 probably makes me closer to the end than to the beginning. Regarding age, my favorite quote comes from Norman Lear. At 94 he is still active in so many different things, collecting fans who are in their 80’s, 60’s and all the way down to the 20’s. I once ask him how old does he think of himself. Without missing a beat, he said, “I’m always the same age as the people I talk to.” Now, that is a cool answer! Ever since, I’ve been paying close attention to who I am talking to ;-)  Now that I’ve officially crossed the half time line, I really need to make more young friends as my new teachers so that I can stay fresh.

So my friends, may we all grow wiser with age and younger at heart always.


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