In Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders this year, he reflected not only on the past year but also on the last 58, writing that his career could be boiled down to two numbers: 3,787,464%—Berkshire’s returns over those 58 years—and one dozen “truly good decisions,” which amounts to “one every five years.” That second number shows that small decisions can make huge impacts, and success leans more heavily on getting the most important decisions right rather than getting every decision right, contends an article The Wall Street Journal.
Buffett’s letters stand apart because not only are they wise and insightful, they are also humble. He’s never shied away from highlighting his own mistakes, and he credits many other factors—such as compounding interest, the luck of being born in the U.S., and basic strategies—as contributing to his success, rather than his own genius. Buffett often advises new investors to imagine a punch card with 20 holes for the total amount of investments they’re allowed in their life. Viewed that way, investors would make wiser, more thought-out decisions, be pickier, and act rationally instead of rashly. However, his recent letter reveals that his punch card still has several slots still unpunched. While his decisions to buy dividend stocks from Coca-Cola and American Express (both $1.3 billion investments, now worth $25 billion and $23 billion, respectively), along with his partnership with Charlie Munger, could definitely be considered part of “the Buffett dozen,” the article speculates what other holes have been punched on that card.
An early deal for insurer National Indemnity in 1967 gave Berkshire a fresh start and is still lucrative, as is the deal for See’s Candies in 1972 which has generated over $2 billion from its initial $25 million investment. Another landmark deal was for what is now known as Berkshire Hathaway Energy in 1999, which also brought in Greg Abel, Buffett’s heir apparent. A legendary deal that would surely make the list is Buffett’s acquisition of Geico, a company Buffett long had an affinity for since being mentored by Benjamin Graham, the company’s CEO in 1951. Likewise, his $5 billion investment in Bank of America in 2011, for 700 million shares at the low price of $7.14, has paid off handsomely, as the stock is now trading around $28. And though Buffett was famously tech-averse, in 2016 he bought a $1 billion stake in Apple—a holding that has blossomed to more than $150 billion and is now the biggest holding in Buffett’s portfolio.
Many of these decisions came about because Buffett knows how to invest not only in companies but also in people, the article maintains. After meeting Ajit Jain on a Saturday in 1985, Buffett hired him; he’s now the head of the insurance arm of the conglomerate. His decision to buy Apple only came after a deputy convinced him to do so—and to trade in his antiquated flip phone for an iPhone. Hiring the right people, and then allowing them to exercise their wisdom, is surely one of “the Buffett dozen.”