Last fall when the world fell apart, Warren Buffett made many famous investments, $3 billion in GE, $5 billion in Goldman. He also made one sleeper investment, paying $230 million for 10% of Chinese battery maker BYD, now better known for offering a $22,000 electric hybrid in China.
Why did Buffett purchase a big chunk of a tech company he didn’t understand? Because, he read a personal ad about its CEO, and he fell in love. OK, maybe it was’t a personal ad, but it was roughly the same thing.
Charlie Munger, Buffett’s BFF, told Buffett BYD’s CEO, Wang Chuan-Fu “is a combination of Thomas Edison and Jack Welch – something like Edison in solving technical problems, and something like Welch in getting done what he needs to do. I have never seen anything like it,” according to a story in Fortune.
That got Buffett and his crew thinking BYD could become the world’s largest car company and a solar power leader. The company’s already big in mobile phone batteries. BYD’s electric plug-in hybrid rolling around in China may not be the prettiest thing, but it’s rolling 60 miles on a single charge, something Chevy’s Volt won’t be able to do.
BYD does something else that General Motors can’t pull off: It earns a profit. Net profits for the company were $187 million for 2008, with each part of the company turning a profit. The ultimate advantage for GM though, is that they will sell their car in the U.S. BYD isn’t certain it will do that, though it plans to sell them around the world.
The Oracle wanted to buy 25% of the company, but Chuan-Fu said no thanks. He only wanted to sell 10% of the company. Since Buffett likes it when someone plays hard to get this only got him more excited about the company, as he tells Fortune, “This was a man who didn’t want to sell his company…That was a good sign.” Of course, China has strict laws preventing foreign companies from coming in, so that might’ve been a defensive move. The 10% deal is still awaiting approval.
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