It’s rare for businessmen in America to enjoy celebrity status overseas like such cultural icons as Michael Jackson and Barrack Obama. But Warren Buffett and his lifelong business partner, Charlie Munger, are a pair of notable exceptions. And the investing duo are perfectly aware of their guru-like fame.
“Well, the world is very peculiar. And these people that like me are mostly nerds in China or India,” Munger told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview when asked about his thoughts on the worldwide fan club himself and Buffett have attracted.
“It’s a very deep attachment,” he continued. “They’re so passionately interested in improving themselves. Some of them just want to get rich in some easy way, but mostly they’re trying to improve themselves.”
That’s a keen observation. On JD.com, China’s primary e-commerce platform for books, biographies of Buffett and Munger, as well as the collection of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letters to shareholders, are consistently top sellers in finance and self-improvement categories and often have tens of thousands of customer reviews.
Chinese admirers also made up a great share of past winners of Warren Buffett’s annual charity lunch, which prospective attendees can bid on every spring on eBay. In 2006, a Chinese electronics entrepreneur paid $620,000 for the “power lunch” with Buffett; two years later, a Chinese private equity investor pushed up the winning bid to $2.11 million; and in 2015 another Chinese tycoon won the lunch for a whopping $2.34 million.
In India, Buffett and Warren enjoy a similar media craze but for a slightly different reason. Unlike China, where Berkshire Hathaway has yet to build a meaningful business presence, India has been a key market on the firm’s radar in recent years. After Buffett paid a visit to the country for the first time in 2011, last August Berkshire pulled the trigger on its first major Indian investment, buying a a stake worth up to $360 million in mobile payment startup Paytm.
Berkshire Hathaway’s India-born insurance division chief, Ajit Jain, is also widely believed to be one of the successors to the 88-year-old Buffett and 95-year-old Munger after their inevitable retirements.
Munger said a lot of his fans in China and India are “graduates of great engineering schools,” but he wouldn’t call them investors because most of them tend to treat investing as a purely speculative game.
“I wouldn’t call a man who uses computer science to sift vast amounts of data for correlation [an investor]…What he is is a trader,” Munger said. “Those correlations are very peculiar…. Of course, the more people that try and trade that [a correlation], the less well it works.”
When asked what kind of investing approach he would take if he were to start over, Munger said he’d stick to the classic Benjamin Graham principle of “getting a better investment than you’re paying for.”
“All good investing involves getting a better investment than you’re paying for. And you’re just looking for it in different places, just as a fisherman can fish in one place or another,” he told the Journal. “That will never go out of style. I mean, that is just basic and fundamental.”