01 Dec 2014

Book Review: My Lunch with Warren

by Sean Silverthorne


Guy Spier (MBA 1993) didn’t wait long after graduation to make the biggest mistake of his career.

Accepting a vice president’s role at D.H. Blair Investment Banking, the admitted Gordon Gekko wannabe had a front-row seat as several top execs at the firm were charged with securities fraud and manipulating stock prices. “The résumé and reputation I had built for myself at Oxford and Harvard had been reduced to dust,” Spier recounts in his new book, The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment.

In a lively account of the evolution of his values, Spier begins his redemption by starting the Aquamarine Fund and by channeling none other than the king of value investing. When Spier saw Warren Buffett speak at HBS, he wasn’t much impressed. That would soon change.

A pivotal point in his re-education occurred when Spier won an opportunity to lunch with the Oracle of Omaha, a three-hour steak-a-thon. Buffett encouraged his dining companions to live their lives by an internal scorecard and to filter out distractions and the expectations of others. At one point Buffett displayed his appointment book—it was largely empty.

Like Buffett, Spier’s investing approach is iconoclastic. He moved his family to Zurich to escape the Wall Street Sturm und Drang. His theories on economic behavior are pulled not from economists but from biologists and psychologists. He orchestrates his office so that the distractions of email and a Bloomberg terminal are difficult to access, but a nap area is always ready. Portraits of mentors help Spier model his decision-making on their behavior.

To keep focus and minimize false assumptions, Spier has adopted numerous investing rules. For example, gather investment research in the right order, starting with least-biased sources. He observes that “the order in which I read the materials matters greatly since whatever I take in first will affect me unduly.”

But Spier’s biggest life’s lesson, also presented by Buffett, is to surround yourself with smarter people. “Nothing, nothing at all, matters as much as bringing the right people into your life,” he writes. “They will teach you everything you need to know.”

Especially if one of those people is Warren Buffett.


What I'm Reading

“A delicious depiction of consumption viewed through a culinary lens. A novel that describes a clash of cultures in French and Indian cuisines that makes the food live through human drama. Morais’s carefully researched story takes the reader from Bombay to London, Lumière, and Paris. It’s now the basis for a movie with actors whose last names ironically signify food—Helen Mirren (phonetically, ‘pepper’ in Hindi) and Om Puri (a popular Indian puffed bread). A page-turner that will make you hungry.”
Professor Rohit Deshpandé, on The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais



“Over the past couple of decades, a growing stack of evidence has shown that social behavior—including helping others—improves our mental and physical health and extends life expectancy. One study on mortality following 7,000 people found that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social ties was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most social ties, independent of physical health. Maybe this deep-rooted social element in all of us explains our yearning for a life of meaning. We wonder about our purposes; we care about our legacy.”

—An excerpt from A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by Sheryl WuDunn (MBA 1986) and Nicholas D. Kristof


Reading the Classics

The Harvard Business Review is opening its vault for HBS alumni. This fall, HBR began offering 77 classic articles—from Clayton Christensen on innovation to Bill George on leadership—to alumni as free downloads. Alumni can log on and browse the articles at alumni.hbs.edu/hbrclassics.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1993, Section E
follow @GSpier
Class of MBA 1986, Section C
follow @WuDunn

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