- Warren Buffett shared his views on corporate governance in a recent book.
- The billionaire investor trumpeted the importance of executives being honest and accountable.
- He also shared how he learns from acquisitions, and how he keeps auditors in line.
Warren Buffett warned against overpaying even the most brilliant CEO, shared his process for learning from bad acquisitions, and weighed in on why executives cheat and lie in an interview for “Talent, Strategy, Risk,” a recent book by corporate-governance experts Ram Charan, Bill McNabb, and Dennis Carey.
The famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway chairman also outlined why he’s not the easiest person to have on a board, detailed how he keeps audit firms honest, and urged CEOs to be open with their shareholders.
Here are Buffett’s 10 best quotes from the book, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:
1. “Picking the right CEO is 10 times more important than the compensation. But somebody has to be there to represent the shareholders in terms of overreaching by even competent executives.”
2. “I was at a company that made about eight acquisitions, none of which worked out, and they could hardly wait to do the ninth. So I suggested that we have a postmortem just like a hospital on every acquisition two or three years later and objectively decide – not with recriminations or anything – just what actually did happen.”
3. “It isn’t fundamental dishonesty that causes people to go in a different direction. It’s human nature. There are plenty of people who are really decent people, intelligent people. I’d be happy if they married my daughter, or if they moved in next door to me. But they just don’t come to grips with reality. And boards usually don’t push them to.”
4. “I realized that the only way to really get one of the super big-name auditors to behave was to have them more afraid of me than they were afraid of the management.” – recalling how he reined in a company “playing games” with its quarterly financials.
5. “The company lawyers tell you to list every possible thing you can dream of in the 10-K just as a protection. They kill you with quantity. The risk committees almost don’t have a chance.” – bemoaning how companies draft a laundry list of risks to obscure the key ones.
6. “Women have gotten a raw deal for so long that I’d absolutely prefer to give the job to a female. But I’ve never recommended a woman who I didn’t think had the qualities that I’ve set forth in the 10-year report.”
7. “I’ve probably been a little more of a skunk at the garden party than most directors when I’m on a board.”
8. “A CEO that wants a puppet board can still get one, I’ll put it that way.” – noting that executives can prevent their directors from questioning them by wasting their time.
9. “The person who’s going to be responsible for the assets and how they’re managed over time is the CEO, and you really want to hear from that person.”
10. “The CEO absolutely owes that to the owners. I have a strong feeling that everybody’s entitled to the same information.” – emphasizing that he aims to tell his shareholders everything he would tell his two sisters if the three of them were running the company.