The investing world lost a titan this week with the death of Charlie Munger at age 99. As vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and close confidante of Warren Buffett for over 60 years, Munger played an integral role expanding Berkshire into the mammoth conglomerate it is today, valued over $700 billion. But beyond his partnership with Buffett, Munger made lasting impacts as a business leader, architect, philanthropist and teacher.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1924, Munger served in World War II before earning his law degree from Harvard and embarking on dual careers in law and business. He founded the California-based investment firm Wheeler, Munger & Company which focused on real estate and traded stocks. By the 1970s, Munger had amassed ample wealth to retire early and pursue other passions.
Fatefully, a shared investing philosophy brought Munger together with Buffett years prior, though the two operated their own separate enterprises. When Buffett took control of struggling textile manufacturer Berkshire Hathaway in the 1960s, he tapped Munger to help redirect the company towards the insurance and investment vehicles that became its core business.
With Buffett as Chairman and CEO and Munger as Vice Chairman, the duo refined their strategy of identifying “wonderful companies at fair prices” and letting their investments compound over long periods. Their disciplined approach to capital allocation, thorough due diligence and patience in holding winners drove Berkshire’s stock price from around $300 per share when Munger joined to over $400,000 per share five decades later.
Beyond remarkable returns, Munger spearheaded Berkshire’s evolution from a holding company into the massive conglomerate it has become, owning outright brands like GEICO, Duracell and Dairy Queen and holding large stakes in public companies like Coca-Cola and Apple. Munger encouraged Buffett to open Berkshire’s wallet for large acquisitions when an attractive deal surfaced.
Investing principles etched in stone
While Buffett attracted fame as the public face of Berkshire Hathaway, insiders knew Munger as an equal investing and decision-making force. The Berkshire Vice Chairman preached avoiding unnecessary complexity and instead focusing on business sustainability and management integrity.
“All intelligent investing is value investing – acquiring more than you are paying for,” Munger once said succinctly. He codified principles of patience, discipline and thoroughness that became central tenets of value investing doctrine studied by generations of students and money managers alike.
Munger himself authored multiple books and papers studied religiously in business schools and investment programs. Generations of proteges like Mohnish Pabrai and Guy Spier view Munger as a personal mentor despite limited direct interactions, such was the influence of his published wit and wisdom.
Architect, donor, teacher
Beyond the investing arena, Munger left his mark on educational institutions and fields as diverse as architecture and medicine. Though lacking formal credentials, the businessman designed multiple buildings on college campuses, forging his vision upon schools like Stanford and the University of Michigan through large-scale donations.
Even in his late 90s, Munger energetically dispensed advice as he engaged audiences at Berkshire’s famous shareholder meetings with his trademark wit. He urged individuals to expand their multidisciplinary knowledge and maintain ethical decision-making standards throughout their careers.
In interviews, Munger revealed how his own perseverance powered through major adversity, from the death of his young son to blindness in one eye. While Munger formally steps away from the investing stage he commanded alongside Warren Buffett for nearly sixty years, his insights and values will continue molding new generations of business leaders for decades to come. The legacy left behind ensures Charlie Munger’s status as an investing icon remains etched in stone.