When There’s Nothing Else to Say
Are the following two paragraphs likely to have been composed with originality, independently by two different people, or does it seem likely that one was adapted from the other?
“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to become a part of what we believe to be the finest family of companies ever assembled under one corporate name. Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway has demonstrated a legendary record of protecting the unique characteristics of individual businesses in a diverse portfolio of companies. We’re excited to be a part of it.”
“We couldn’t be more pleased than to have the opportunity to become a part of what we believe to be the finest family of companies ever assembled under one corporate name. Warren Buffett has demonstrated a legendary track record for growth and we want to be part of it.”
These are from Berkshire Hathaway press releases, several years apart (1997 and 2000), quoting senior executives of generations-old family companies being sold to the conglomerate Warren Buffett leads. My hunch is that cribbing occurred, but of a fairly innocuous sort.
A Berkshire manager, experienced in drafting press releases, asked the selling executive for a comment. Having never given a comment for a business press release of this sort, the recipient asked for examples or suggestions of what to say.
Taking a habit from the page of corporate lawyers, the Berkshire manager likely culled some examples from precedent and sent them over. The family businessman then read through the samples, picked the one he liked the best, touched up the wording a bit and sent it back.
I came across this curious incident in the context of a larger research project on Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisitions over the past forty years. Part of the project concerns annotating and documenting the joint expectations at the outset. To do that, I’m reading through public company disclosure documents, minutes of meetings and other resources, including press releases.
Press releases announcing corporate mergers are prone to hyperbole and generalities and I’ve found quite a bit of that. Yet, especially when a public company is involved, they are also carefully vetted. And I’ve seen quite a bit of useful, distilled, clear detail in the Berkshire press releases, including the pair quoted.
Written independently or not, this pair reflects a widespread perception in the business world that Berkshire is a unique corporate home where Buffett has been exceptionally good at helping companies grow.