The Master Gives It Back
"Berkshire is my painting," Buffett says, "so it should look the way I want it to when it's done." His fondest hope is that Berkshire will adhere to his principles long after he is gone. "It would be a tragedy," he says, "if someone whose achievement was issuing the most junk bonds or having the silliest stock price took over the company and all that we've built evaporated."
Transparency. But Warren Buffett did not become one of "America's Best Leaders" just for his investing prowess. Rather, he was selected for his leadership and influence in the greater corporate world. His commitment to sound ethics and principles, his self-discipline and consistency, his transparency in disclosing mistakes, his criticism of Wall Street fees and compensation of underperforming CEOs, and his pleas for improving corporate governance-all have had a salutary influence on the corporate community.
Having served on 20 corporate boards, Buffett also understands the responsibilities of governance that many of today's directors seem to have forgotten. When Salomon Brothers was embroiled in a scandal with the U.S. Treasury Department, Buffett stepped in on a Sunday, took over as chair, installed a new CEO, and saved the firm; he offered federal investigators full disclosure and waived attorney-client privilege, enabling the firm to avoid criminal indictment. He told Salomon employees: "You don't need to play outside the lines. You can make a lot of money hitting the ball down the middle."
The rest of us would be well advised to follow his wisdom.