Always Go to Bed a Little Smarter
A way to think of Charlie Munger/Warren Buffet team: Robin to Batman, Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Telemachus to Odysseus. In other words, Munger was squarely pegged as #2.
According to Callum Borchers in the WSJ, it takes a rare blend of confidence and humility to succeed in being second in command. Munger’s satisfaction with being the ultimate sidekick could be a model, especially today when so many workers are questioning whether a race to the top is worth the journey.
The consummate right-hand person must be devoted to organizational success while accepting that someone else’s star will always shine brighter.
A Model Sidekick
It helped that Warren and Charlie, as the duo was known, shared a personal friendship. And being a wingman is presumably more fun when you’re a billionaire, as Munger was. Most important, say those who knew him: Munger knew he was respected and appreciated.
According to Harry Kramer, former chief executive of the healthcare company Baxter International, Mr. Buffet, when complimented on his amazing track record, replied,
“It isn’t just me. Never mention my name without Charlie’s.”
Having complementary strengths and interests helps ward off resentment, adds Robert Brehl, author of a memoir on two of Canada’s telecom entrepreneurs, “Right Hand Man.”
“You have to have the yin and yang,” Brehl says. “Ted wouldn’t have been as effective without Phil, and the same thing with Warren and Charlie.”
Munger was no featherweight. Before meeting Buffett, Munger was already a professional success. He served in World War II, went to Harvard Law School. and co-founded a law firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, where his name was first on the door.
(Munger) realized he could be more successful—and happier—in a partnership. Understanding his own shortcomings contributed to his willingness to become Buffett’s running mate, (Munger) has said. He rejected Buffett’s initial overtures before agreeing to come aboard.
Munger soon realized Warren Buffet had a better way of making a living than he did.
Not that it was easy to set aside his ego to take the No. 2 role and play to what his No. 1 needed. Buffett was Berkshire Hathaway’s public face and larger-than-life persona. Munger seemed to relish his freedom from talking to reporters and investors. In the background, he could be sharper, more direct, and funnier.
Having His Cake and Eating It Too
The durability of the Buffett-and-Munger duo act stemmed in part, writes Mr. Bochers, “from a shared intellectual curiosity, a measure of humility—for billionaires, anyway—and willingness to learn from their mistakes.”
In a commencement address to the University of Southern California’s law school in 2007, Munger described successful people: “They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and, boy, does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”
According to social psychologist Tessa West, who is studying people she calls “runners up” for a forthcoming book, savvy runners also know it can be best to let someone else take the lead to break the wind. Ms. West, who studies people she calls “runners up” for a forthcoming book, tells our WSJ author, that a certain type of person prefers to run second.
“Once you get to a certain level of power, you realize that that top position doesn’t necessarily come with more influence—it just comes with more publicity and a lot more reputational risk,” she says.
“The way I see it, Munger got to have his cake and eat it too. He had status without all the headaches.”