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Behind the Scenes With Buffett’s Biographer, Alice Schroeder

Nov. 07, 2010 7:24 AM ETBRK.A, BRK.B7 Comments
Miguel Barbosa profile picture
Miguel Barbosa

The Forging of a Skeptic - From Accountant to Buffett’s Voice on Wall St.

Miguel: Hi Alice. I’d like to start by thanking you for taking the time to talk with me.

Alice: Miguel, thanks for inviting me to do the interview. This is the first time I’ve ever talked to anyone at length about Warren Buffett, The Snowball, why I wrote the book, and the lessons learned.

Miguel: Start by explaining what was special about your experience with The Snowball.

Alice: When we discussed doing this interview, a theme that emerged was the hidden world of people like Warren Buffett, people who are in the top tenth of one percent of society in terms of fame, money, and connections, and how little most of us know of that world and its hierarchy and norms. Instinctively, you know that Snookie doesn’t go to parties with Bob Iger and Willow Bay (Disney CEO and his wife, a television host), but the more granular distinctions aren’t self-evident. For example, how valuable a form of social currency strong political connections in Washington can be, not because of their actual importance, but because they bring you reliably fresh and impressive-sounding conversational material to use at dinner parties.

Even once inside a person’s world, getting to know their life history and psyche takes years, and that’s even more true of an important public figure because they’re so self-protective. Warren is so remote that his inner world has been accessible only to a tiny handful of people over the course of his lifetime, even though so many people are acquainted with him and consider him a friend. That makes it all the more unusual that he made himself world accessible to me and wanted me to write about him.

He spent a huge amount, I’ve estimated 2,000

This article was written by

Miguel Barbosa profile picture
Miguel Barbosa is founder & editor of SimoleonSense.com (http://SimoleonSense.com), a blog dedicated toward providing "enriching ideas for intelligent investors." Miguel Barbosa received his Bachelor degree in liberal arts and sciences from the University of Florida. He also holds a Masters of Science in Management and a Masters of Arts in International Business. Currently, he is working on obtaining his series 7 and 63 licenses as well as his CFA designation.

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Comments (10)

Diesel Investments profile picture
Great interview, Miguel. Is there any possibility of asking Alice Shroeder what, if any, comments Buffett made regarding her 1999 Paine Webber analysis on Berkshire Hathaway? Did Buffett agree with her approach?
Marcus Chung profile picture
Amazing interview, many golden nuggets
Great interview! Thanks for doing it. I wish she elaborated a bit more on the "How Buffett generates investment ideas" question.
Tollsforthee profile picture

Awesome interview. You asked brief, but insightful questions; came back to the points of interest (she side-stepped some of your pointed inquiries, but at least you made the effort), and were a worthy foil for her intellect.

Loved it.
Jacob Wolinsky profile picture
Great interview, thanks Miguel

Your pal,

www.think-income.com Cheapgordo profile picture
Good work, Miguel! I've been looking for an Alice Schroeder interview like this since I finished reading "Snowball."

Given Ms. Schroeder's experience, analysis and depth, the length is appreciated. Henry Emerson, editor of Outstanding Investor Digest, (see: oid.com) has been publishing similar "lengthy, in-depth interviews" for years and it's valuable stuff.

There are countless books, articles and interviews on Buffett, but Schroeder's work is head and shoulders above the rest. Other Buffett experts (like Hagstrom, Miles, etc) are great explaining Buffett's techniques, investment style, philosophy, etc., but the explanations typically occur in a vacuum. Their analysis overlooks the times, the events, the relationships and the context that created a genius like Buffett.

Schroeder's business analysis and objectivity remind us fans that life hasn't always been easy for Mr Buffett and he's no saint. Still, by acknowledging his humanity (i.e. including frailties), Buffett's achievements and story inspire us all the more.

I recognize her work has created some strains with Mr. Buffett. Staying friends or just being amicable with someone who's explored and revealed the skeletons in your closet is a tall order and Schroeder has paid a price (who of us wouldn't want to maintain a friendship with Mr Buffett?). But Buffett adherents emerge all the more enlightened. It's a bit like learning your favourite teacher or your folks have a life outside of the one that touches you. It makes you value their work, dedication, commitment,etc. all the more.

Good work, Miguel. Your blogs on the click list.
Alex Morris profile picture
Great interview! My favorite part:

"So what is it like to be an analyst…When I started at Oppie it was very free form. Analysts used their judgment. Over time, as I moved through the different firms, especially Morgan Stanley, more and more requirements arose. There were things you had to write every time you published on a company. The financial models became standardized. Like any other business, the more you standardize something, the more you stamp out creativity.

This was more than just compliance. Through this process, big firms like Morgan Stanley were also trying to brand themselves. The firm wanted to be the brand, and discouraged its analysts from doing distinctive enough work to result in them becoming a brand themselves."

Wow, what a great place to work for.

Alex Morris
Great stuff. This really helps fills out my understanding of Buffet. It was worth the long time it took to read! Her insights into Wall Street analysts were equally informative.
Bullman profile picture
Agree; a lot long-winded, but a lot of good information.
M Plaut profile picture
A little long-winded, but a lot of good information.
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