Goodreid Blog

Five Lessons Learned from Charlie Munger

December 19, 2023

Billionaire Charlie Munger passed away in November 2023 at the age of 99 after many decades alongside Warren Buffett at the helm of the massive holding corporation Berkshire Hathaway. Together, Buffett and Munger grew Berkshire from a small textiles firm into a massive and diversified conglomerate with a market capitalization of about $780 billion at the time of Munger’s passing. 

Over the years I was fortunate enough to attend the Berkshire Hathaway Annual General Meetings (AGMs) in Omaha, Nebraska on a number of occasions. I started attending these meetings twenty years ago, in 2004, with some friends and colleagues from Toronto and continued almost every year until the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person meetings in Spring 2020. I found the Berkshire Hathaway AGMs - which are commonly referred to as “Woodstock for Capitalists,” - to be as entertaining as they were intellectually stimulating. A big reason for this was for the wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger. During his career, Munger demonstrated himself to be an unconventional thinker, who applied the importance of psychological factors to better understand business and investing. Here are five of the many investing lessons we have taken from Munger over the years.

Buy Wonderful Businesses at Fair Prices. At Goodreid, we strive to invest in quality companies. We share this attribute with Charlie Munger, as a core component of Munger’s approach to investing was to invest in quality businesses. Munger was credited for influencing Warren Buffett to focus less on price; and more on the quality of the business that he was buying. He is known to have said, “Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices. Instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.” Buying these companies with the intention of holding them for a long time would allow the market to eventually reflect their intrinsic worth over many years. 

Exercise Patience. “The big money is not in the buying and selling, but in the waiting.” Munger was known for his extreme buy-and-hold approach, selecting only companies he felt were a sure bet and then holding on to them for years. Munger and Buffett shared a belief that investment opportunities with true potential are both rare, and worth waiting for. Munger worked hard to identify investments he felt were as close as possible to a sure thing and held them often for years or decades at a time. He felt that by exercising patience, you could often avoid some investment mistakes. “The whole secret to investment is to find places where it is safe and wise not to diversify,” Munger had said. 

Great opportunities are rare. One of Munger’s approaches involved weeding out opportunities that were just mediocre. He believed that great investment opportunities would only present themselves a few times in an investor’s career. He also believed in making bold moves in those rare moments in which a tremendous opportunity does present itself. This extreme selectiveness, coupled with a tendency to buy big when he did go-in on a new investment, led Munger to maintain a portfolio extremely lacking in diversity by most modern standards. In Munger’s wisdom, if truly great investment opportunities are vanishingly rare, then over-diversification of a portfolio suggests that the investor is buying into some names that represent only decent opportunities. At the time of his passing, Munger reportedly held shares of just three stocks in his personal investment portfolio: Berkshire Hathaway; Costco; and Daily Journal Corp. 

Invert problems to reach a solution. Munger had a unique approach to problem solving: inversion, or looking at things upside down and planning for the opposite of what you want to happen. Instead of trying to achieve success, make a list of how to avoid failure. This means you reverse the equation to try to identify potential sources of failure upfront. Munger felt it was not enough to think about difficult problems from only one perspective. Rather, you need to think about them forwards and backward. Inverting the problem won’t always solve it, but it will help you avoid trouble. “Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward,” he said. Whether approaching investing or life, Munger emphasized what not to do first, rather than what to do: “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I don’t go there.”

Continue to learn. Throughout his life, Munger demonstrated a relentless pursuit of knowledge. He was known for being an avid reader and believed that lifelong learning was key to success in investing. “Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading; cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day,” he said. Munger encouraged fellow investors to broaden their knowledge beyond finance and economics, exploring a wide range of disciplines such as psychology, history and science. This multidisciplinary approach allowed him to gain unique insights and make more informed investment decisions.

If the above five lessons whet your appetite for more Mungerisms, a good follow-up would be to read Poor Charlie’s Almanac, a compilation filled with wonderful advice from him over the years. The lessons from Munger extend beyond the realm of investing; they offer a blueprint for a fulfilling and successful life. His wit and wisdom will certainly live on well into the future, influencing and moulding investment minds with entertaining nuggets of timeless wisdom for many years to come.

Robert Gill

Senior Vice President & Portfolio Manager

See Biography

Other Posts

Quality Investing Outlook: EisnerAmper's Interview with Robert Gill

04 April, 2024

EisnerAmper’s Trends Watch is a weekly entry to our Investments Intelligence blog, featuring the views and insights of executives from investment firms. This week, Elana talks with Robert Gill, Senior Vice President and Canadian Portfolio Manager, Goodreid Investment Counsel.

Read More

The Financial Post: Is portfolio diversification always a good thing? Not necessarily

28 March, 2024

Diversification is one of the most elementary and popular investing strategies available to all levels of investors, from the most sophisticated pension funds to college students opening their first investment account. The foundation of diversification is simple: don’t put all your…

Read More

The Financial Post: Consumers hate oligopolies, but this group shouldn't

28 February, 2024

Detective Sherlock Holmes, brought to life by the Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction and logical reasoning that borders on the extraordinary. “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes,”…

Read More

The Financial Post: Five company attributes you need to look for to invest with confidence

01 February, 2024

By employing these characteristics, investors can build a resilient and prosperous portfolio that reaps many rewards and stands the test of time. The investment industry is rife with predictions on matters such as where the stock market is expected to finish at the end of the year,…

Read More

Five Lessons Learned from Charlie Munger

19 December, 2023

Billionaire Charlie Munger passed away in November 2023 at the age of 99 after many decades alongside Warren Buffett at the helm of the massive holding corporation Berkshire Hathaway. Together, Buffett and Munger grew Berkshire from a small textiles firm into a massive and diversified…

Read More

The Financial Post: These tax-loss selling targets are also table-pounding buys

23 November, 2023

As we approach year-end, many investors are turning their attention to tax-loss selling, the strategy of selling investments that have experienced a loss in order to offset capital gains and potentially reduce an investor’s tax liability.

Read More