Charlie Munger

Charlie Munger (b. 1924) is an American business magnate, lawyer, investor, and philanthropist. He is Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, the diversified investment corporation chaired by Warren Buffett; in that capacity, Buffett describes Munger as ‘my partner.’

Munger served as chairman of Wesco Financial Corporation from 1984 through 2011 (Wesco was approximately 80%-owned by Berkshire-Hathaway during that time). He is also the chairman of the Daily Journal Corporation, based in Los Angeles, and a director of Costco Wholesale Corporation.

Like Buffett, Munger is a native of Omaha, Nebraska. After studies in mathematics at the University of Michigan, and service in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a meteorologist, trained at Caltech, he entered Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, without an undergraduate degree. Graduating in 1948 with a Juris Doctor magna cum laude, he, his wife, Nancy, and their son and two daughters moved to California where he joined the law firm Wright & Garrett. In 1962, he founded and worked as a real estate attorney at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. He then gave up the practice of law to concentrate on managing investments. He partnered with Otis Booth in real estate development. He partnered with Jack Wheeler to form Wheeler, Munger, and Company, an investment firm with a seat on the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange. He wound up Wheeler, Munger in 1976 after losses of 31% in 1973 and 1974.

Although Munger is better known for his association with Warren Buffett, he ran an investment partnership of his own from 1962 to 1975. According to Buffett’s essay, ‘The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville,’ published in 1984, Munger’s investment partnership generated compound annual returns of 19.8% during the 1962–75 period compared to a 5.0% annual appreciation rate for the Dow.

Munger was previously also the chairman of Wesco Financial Corporation, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. It began as a savings and loan association, but eventually grew to control Precision Steel Corp., CORT Furniture Leasing, Kansas Bankers Surety Company, and other ventures. Wesco Financial also held a concentrated equity portfolio of over $1.5 billion dollars in companies such as Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods, US Bancorp, and Goldman Sachs. Munger believes that holding a concentrated number of stocks, that he knows extremely well, will in the long term produce superior returns. Wesco is based in Pasadena, California, Munger’s adopted hometown. Pasadena was also the site of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, which were typically held on the Wednesday or Thursday after the more famous Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. Munger’s meetings were nearly as legendary in the investment community as those he co-hosts with Buffett in Omaha. Such meetings were often perfunctory, but Munger interacted with the other Wesco shareholders at considerable length, sometimes speculating about what his hero Benjamin Franklin would do in a given situation. Meeting notes are taken and posted on the internet.

Buffett has often publicly stated that he regards Munger as his partner. Indeed, Munger owns enough Berkshire Hathaway stock to be a bona fide billionaire in his own right. However, Munger is hardly a carbon copy of Buffett: Munger is known to be a Republican, whereas Buffett has generally supported Democrats. Buffett devotes his time almost exclusively to his business, while Munger, who does not involve himself in the day-to-day operations of Berkshire, is a generalist for whom investment is only one of a broad range of interests.

Munger is a major benefactor of the University of Michigan. In 2007, Munger made a $3 million gift to the University of Michigan Law School for lighting improvements in Hutchins Hall and the William W. Cook Legal Research Building, including the noted Reading Room. In 2011, Munger made another gift to the Law School, contributing $20 million for renovations to the Lawyers Club housing complex, which will cover the majority of the $39 million cost. The renovated portion of the Lawyers Club will be renamed the Charles T. Munger Residences in the Lawyers Club in his honor. In December 2011, Munger donated 10 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Class A stock (currently valued at $115,900 per share, or $1.2 million total) to the University of Michigan.

In addition to the University of Michigan, Munger and his wife Nancy B. Munger have been major benefactors of Stanford University. Nancy Munger was an alumna of Stanford, and Charlie Munger’s daughter from a previous marriage, Wendy Munger was also an alumna (A.B. 1972) is currently a member of the board. In 2004, the Mungers donated 500 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Class A stock, then valued at $43.5 million, to Stanford to build a graduate student housing complex. The Munger Graduate Residence opened in late 2009 and now houses 600 law and graduate students. The Mungers also gave a major gift to Stanford’s Green Library to fund the restoration of the Bing Wing as well as the construction of a rotunda on the library’s second floor, and endowed the Munger Chair in Nancy and Charles Munger Professorship of Business at Stanford Law School.

Munger has been a trustee of the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles for more than 40 years, and previously served as chair of the board of trustees. His five sons and stepsons as well as at least one grandson graduated from the prep school. In 2009, Munger donated eight shares of Berkshire Hathaway Class A stock, worth nearly $800,000, to Harvard-Westlake. In 2006, Munger donated 100 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Class A stock, then valued at $9.2 million, to the school toward a building campaign at Harvard-Westlake’s middle school campus. The Mungers had previously made a gift to build the $13 million Munger Science Center at the high school campus, a two-story classroom and laboratory building which opened in 1995 and has been described as ‘a science teacher’s dream.’ The design of the Science Center was substantially influenced by Munger.[2]

In multiple speeches, and in the book ‘Poor Charlie’s Almanack,’ Munger has introduced the concept of ‘Elementary, Worldly Wisdom’ as it relates to business and finance. Munger’s worldly wisdom consists of a set of mental models framed as a latticework to help solve critical business problems. According to Munger, only 80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. He believes that incentives explain why people behave the way they do. Munger’s words of wisdom include those that profess high ethical standards. In the 2009 Wesco Financial Corporation annual meeting he said, ‘Good businesses are ethical businesses. A business model that relies on trickery is doomed to fail.’

Munger uses the term ‘Lollapalooza Effect’ for multiple biases, tendencies or mental models acting at the same time in the same direction. With the Lollapalooza effect, itself a mental model, the result is often extreme, due to the confluence of the mental models, biases or tendencies acting together. During a talk at Harvard in 1995, Munger mentions Tupperware parties and open outcry auctions, which turn the human brain into ‘mush.’ In the Tupperware party, you have reciprocation and social proof. (The hostess gave the party and the tendency is to reciprocate; other people are buying, which is the social proof.) In the open outcry auction, there is social proof of others bidding, commitment to buying the item, and deprivation super-reaction syndrome, i.e. sense of loss. The latter is an individual’s sense of loss of what he believe should be or is his. These biases often occur at either conscious or subconscious level, and in both microeconomic and macroeconomic scale.

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