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  • Writer's pictureStephen Boatman

In Honor of Charlie Munger - A Few Quotes

Updated: Jan 20


Charles T. Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett's closest associate, died Tuesday, at age 99. He would have turned 100 on New Year's Day.

Munger, like Buffett, was born in Omaha. In addition to helping Buffett run Berkshire Hathaway, he was a real estate lawyer, publisher, and, like Buffett, a philanthropist who made donations in the hundreds of millions and sometimes billions. He was also the former CEO of Wesco Financial, a job he held when Berkshire Hathaway acquired all shares of the company in 2011.

Munger was credited with changing Buffett's investment strategy to what it is today. A young Buffett had learned from his professor and one-time employer Ben Graham to use analysis to identify companies that might be troubled but whose stock was deeply undervalued--which is why Buffett purchased the company Berkshire Hathaway, originally a New England textile manufacturer. Munger persuaded Buffett to switch from this strategy of buying "a fair company at a wonderful price" to the pair's current strategy of buying "a wonderful company at a fair price." One example is See's Candies, which Berkshire acquired in 1972 at Munger's behest. It's produced more than $2 billion in revenue since then.


In addition to all this, Munger was one of the most quotable people who ever lived. This was very much by design--one of his books is titled Poor Charlie's Almanack, a nod to Benjamin Franklin's most famous work. His numerous quotes are a delightful combination of common sense, investing insight, and tough love. Here are some of the best.


1. The importance of learning ...

"I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you."


Importance of learning

2. ... And of reading

"In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time--none, zero. You'd be amazed how much Warren reads--and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out."

3. Good ideas can be worse than bad ones

"It's not the bad ideas that do you in, it's the good ideas. And you may say, 'That can't be so. That's paradoxical.' What [Ben Graham] meant was that if a thing is a bad idea, it's hard to overdo. But where there is a good idea with a core of essential and important truth, you can't ignore it. And then it's so easy to overdo it. So the good ideas are a wonderful way to suffer terribly if you overdo them."

4. You must be willing to destroy your own ideas

"We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side."

5. What's wrong with "synergy"

"The reason we avoid the word synergy is because people generally claim more synergistic benefits than will come. Yes, it exists, but there are so many false promises. Berkshire is full of synergies--we don't avoid synergies, just claims of synergies."

6. The importance of learning history

"There is no better teacher than history in determining the future ... There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book."

7. How Romans built their arches

"An example of a really responsible system is the system the Romans used when they built an arch. The guy who created the arch stood under it as the scaffolding was removed. It's like packing your own parachute."

8. Why objectivity is a superpower

"It's kind of fun to sit there and outthink people who are way smarter than you are because you've trained yourself to be more objective and more multidisciplinary. Furthermore, there is a lot of money in it, as I can testify from my own personal experience."

9. Why envy is dumb

"The idea of caring that someone is making money faster [than you are] is one of the deadly sins. Envy is a really stupid sin because it's the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There's a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on that trolley?"

10. The importance of unstructured thinking time

"We both insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think. So Warren and I do more reading and thinking and less doing than most people in business."

11. Old age

And one final quote:

"The best armor of old age is a well spent life preceding it."

It certainly sounds like Charlie Munger had that well spent life. Munger's enduring influence on finance and life is evident in these carefully curated words, each offering a nugget of invaluable insight. Flat Fee Financial encapsulates the essence of his profound wisdom.

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