Thursday, April 17, 2008

Continuing on with work advice...this time from Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is an amazing human being. Inspite of being one of the richest men in the world, he still drives the car he did for years, lives in a modest house with modest means, and gave the bulk of his wealth to the Gates Foundation. And he always makes time to answer the questions of students eager to learn from him. Here are some fun tidbits from his latest interview in Fortune magazine.

I know you had a paper route. Was that your first job?

Well, I worked for my grandfather, which was really tough, in the [family] grocery store. But if you gave me the choice of being CEO of General Electric or IBM or General Motors, you name it, or delivering papers, I would deliver papers. I would. I enjoyed doing that. I can think about what I want to think. I don't have to do anything I don't want to do. It might be wonderful to be head of GE, and Jeff Immelt is a friend of mine. And he's a great guy. But think of all the things he has to do whether he wants to do them or not.

How do you get your ideas?

I just read. I read all day. I mean, we put $500 million in PetroChina. All I did was read the annual report. [Editor's note: Berkshire purchased the shares five years ago and sold them in 2007 for $4 billion.]

From a Q&A session with Darthmouth's Tuck Business School students:
What is your career advice?

If you want to make a lot of money go to Wall Street. More importantly though, do what you would do for free, having passion for what you do is the most important thing. I love what I do; I’m not even that busy . . . A few months ago I was talking to another MBA student, a very talented man, about 30 years old from a great school with a great resume. I asked him what he wanted to do for his career, and he replied that he wanted to go into a particular field, but thought he should work for McKinsey for a few years first to add to his resume. To me that’s like saving sex for your old age. It makes no sense.

Buffett generally advocates three things to youth:

1. Be true to yourself...make all your decisions by referring to your "inner scorecard" (i.e. use your own gut rather than relying on what other people think to make a decision).

2. Love what you do...follow your passion. Pick a job that you would have done for free.

3. Read. Apparently Buffett spends 80% of his workday reading.

I keep emphasizing the "do what you love part" because this is particularly important in the development field. For the most part, international development doesn't pay well; and those of you who spend time in the field will attest to the fact that it is far from glamorous. It is frustrating, and can even get mind numbingly boring. The best people I've worked with in the field, were people who loved their work. What I loved about them is that even in the most difficult circumstances, they smiled. And they smiled because they still loved what they did.

If you want to go out into the field and get a job doing international development, then just get out there. If you love what you do and are good, people will hire you soon enough.

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