Warren Buffett’s words in his annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders are brilliant, and years ago Larry Cunningham took them to a still-higher level by reorganizing what Buffett said into single-subject chapters. Cunningham’s The Essays of Warren Buffett (whose third edition we are now celebrating) therefore emerged as a book no student of Buffett can do without. It begins, moreover, with an excellent introduction written by Larry.
After that beginning, the book moves into what Buffett said in his letters—and here I will lay a small claim to being the person participating in this symposium who is most familiar with those words. That’s because I have been the editor of Warren’s annual letter to shareholders for 36 years—since 1977, when he served on a SEC task force studying communications to shareholders and decided to renovate his own letter.
I had then been a friend of Warren’s for about ten years; he knew my work in Fortune; and he sent me a first draft of his letter, saying, “Any suggestions?” Somewhat intimidated—my husband and I were big admirers of Warren and also Berkshire shareholders—I have joked that I suggested changing a “the” to an “a.” Since that time, I have been his pro bono, but attentive editor. The drill over the years has never changed. He writes, I edit (and sometimes, alas, lose arguments about how a sentence should go).
Fortune and I published our own book about Buffett just a few months ago: Tap Dancing to Work, Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012. It is at heart a real-time business biography, containing everything important Fortune published about Buffett in those years (the bulk of it arranged chronologically). Among these articles are speeches he gave and pieces we took from his annual reports (most of which, you will not be surprised to hear, also turn up in Essays).
In the book’s introduction, I praise Buffett for his “consistency of thought” over the years. Cunningham’s book provides constant reminders of how what Buffett thought became what he did—and in this online space, I will present a classic example. There have been a few exceptions to the general rule, though, and I will supply an example on the inconsistency front as well.