Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger


Although the face of Charlie Munger has graced the covers of such renowned magazines as Fortune, and he has been profiled in several newspapers, very little has been written about the man who is considered by many to be the "brains behind" business partner and investment guru Warren Buffett -- until now.

Businessperson, attorney, confidant, and straight man to Buffett's jokes, father of nine, and self-made billionaire in his own right, Charlie Munger's career is an inarguable ...

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Although the face of Charlie Munger has graced the covers of such renowned magazines as Fortune, and he has been profiled in several newspapers, very little has been written about the man who is considered by many to be the "brains behind" business partner and investment guru Warren Buffett -- until now.

Businessperson, attorney, confidant, and straight man to Buffett's jokes, father of nine, and self-made billionaire in his own right, Charlie Munger's career is an inarguable testament to his genius, versatility, loyalty, and famed talent for "cutting through the bull." Buffett himself credits Munger as the person who expanded his horizons by teaching him the value of great franchises and the virtues of qualitative analysis. Yet, as this first-ever book about one of the investment world's most mysterious, private, and illusive figures reveals, Charlie Munger is far more than the man behind Buffett's throne.

A midwesterner through and through, the Omaha native is living proof that valuable, innovative financial and cultural ideas can and do flow from east to west. Indeed, the Berkshire Hathaway empire's stature as a model-investment-firm-turned-household-word is a reflection of Director and Vice Chairman Munger's staunch advocacy for ethical business practices, his brutal honesty, and his perseverance in the face of myriad adversity. An occasional lecturer and enigmatic instructor in how to become financially independent, lead an ethical life, and be responsible to your family, your community, and your world, Munger is, above all, a man whose life lessons are revealed not so much in the telling as in the living. And quite a life it's been thus far, as this fascinating mosaic of business philosophy, humor, and biography clearly conveys.

Drawing from the unprecedented cooperation of Charlie Munger himself, as well as his family, Warren Buffett, numerous interviews, speech transcripts, and other writings, Damn Right! offers an unparalleled look at the techniques, tactics, and personal history of one of the foremost thinkers of our time, from his fortuitous connection with Buffett to his evolution as a remarkable strategist, corporate wizard, and exceptional citizen.

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Editorial Reviews

Lloyd's List
Janet Lowe's extensive access to Charlie Munger, his family, friends and business partners has ensured a perceptive look at the man and his business methods.
International Wealth Management
This is a well-written, fascinating, cautionary tale which examines the seductive nature of power, and people's willingness to believe in these latter-day icons.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HWhen Warren Buffett's partner, fellow Nebraskan and Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman Charles T. Munger (now 76 years old) was a young boy, his hero was the independent Robinson Crusoe. As he grew older, he strove (and still strives) to emulate the creative thinker Benjamin Franklin, whom Munger admires most for his commitment to social causes and philanthropy. (Munger is one of the pioneering supporters of Planned Parenthood.) Lowe, who spent three intensive years learning about Munger's life and work, had the full cooperation of his subject for this biography and access to his vast network of admiring and devoted business associates, his family and his lifelong friends. She does a superb job of re-creating Munger's development from a respectable lawyer to a savvy investor, providing intricate details about the incisive thinking behind his business deals, which she weaves into a captivating narrative. The droll, brilliant, focused and intensely private Munger conducts his business the way he lives his life: he invests his time and his money in people of strong moral character and businesses that are intrinsically sound. He is not averse to risk, because he calculates it carefully, and, most crucially, when he makes a commitment, he does so for the long term. Agent, Alice Fried Martell. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
A look at the techniques, tactics and history of Charlie Munger, a man some consider to be the brains behind investment guru Warren Buffett. Lowe, an investment writer, constructed the book from information gathered from Munger and his family, as well as Buffett. The book explores the personal life of a man famous for being private, following him through World War II, the death of a son, and a surgery that left him blind in one eye. Speeches by Munger are included in the appendix. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
She's Bullish on the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Money talks - in an astonishing number of languages. Janet Lowe' s books on business and finance have been translated into 17 tongues, including Thai, Hebrew, Slovenian and three different kinds of Chinese.

President of the San Diego Press Club, former financial editor of the San Diego Tribune and the author of 16 books, Lowe' s writing focuses on the leaders of specific industries. Her latest work, "Damn Right! Behind the Scenes With Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger," gives further evidence of Lowe' s expertise on money-related success.

The very rich, she observes, seem to have one particular thing in common.

"The people that I have written about all earned their own wealth. They are not inheritors. They did not fall by it accidentally," she said. "It came about as the result of having a particular talent that they recognized very early in their lives, and they concentrated on it."

She says that Warren Buffett was fascinated by investing even as a child, that Oprah Winfrey began working in radio and television while still in high school, that Ted Turner, although a "wild child," was always someone who saw big ideas and took big risks.

Lowe challenges the stereotype of the wealthy as dishonest and ruthless. Money talks - but it talks straight.

"People usually do not rise to this level unless they' re very smart, good communicators, and ethical," she explained. "You may not agree with the philosophy of a Warren Buffett or a Jack Welch (the head of General Electric) and with what they do or how they feel, but they are honest and true to themselves and they follow an ethical course. They'll tell you that if you' re not a straight shooter and an honest dealer, people will see that and not work with you."

The San Diego Union-Tribune Online (By Sarah Sabalos LaSpaluto, October 29, 2000

"Janet Lowe's extensive access to Charlie Munger, his family, friends and business partners has ensured a perceptive look at the man and his business methods." (Lloyd's List, 9th December 2000)

"This is a well-written, fascinating, cautionary tale which examines the seductive nature of power, and people's willingness to believe in these latter-day icons." (International Wealth Management, October 2000)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471446910
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 5/23/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 294
  • Sales rank: 289,731
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

JANET LOWE is an investment writer and author who has written several business and biographical works, including the bestseller Warren Buffett Speaks as well as Welch: An American Icon and The Man Who Beats the S&P: Investing with Bill Miller (all published by Wiley). Ms. Lowe is a past editor of the San Diego Daily Transcript and financial editor of the San Diego Tribune. More than 200 of her business articles have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Read an Excerpt


The thousands of shareholders who attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, each spring go to see Warren Buffett, but they also are fascinated by the man who sits beside him on the stage and helps the Oracle of Omaha answer questions. They call it the Warren and Charlie Show. It usually goes this way: Buffett answers the question, giving it as much or as little time as he sees fit. At the end, he turns to his longtime partner Charles Munger and asks, "Charlie, do you have anything to add?" Charlie sits there looking as if he'd already been chiseled into Mount Rushmore, and gives a brusque reply. "Nothing to add." He and Buffett play their little jokes each year to an audience that enjoys going right along with them. The meeting does have a deeper element though. Buffett gives serious thought to the questions. And occaionally, something will come over Munger and he delivers a little lecture, based on his long life and abundant experience. When he does speak, Munger has the audience's undivided attention.

He has messages that he thinks are important: Deal ethically with others; face reality; learn from the mistakes of others, and so forth. He delivers those sermonettes with missionary zeal.

"Daddy is very conscious of the fact that he represents social values that are not all that common in the business world," said his first daughter Molly Munger.

Munger isn't as wealthy as Buffett, partly because his life is organized differently. He isn't the showman Buffett is, though he can be enormously entertaining. Thanks to these two factors, the Munger family has long enjoyed theprivilege of being billionaires without the inconveniences of fame.

I told Munger about this book project when I saw him at the Berkshire Hathaway meeting in May 1997, and said I would attend the Wesco Financial Corporation meeting later the same month and hoped we could talk more about the project at that time. Munger didn't say much except that he didn't think the book would sell many copies. My husband, a friend, and I did attend the Wesco meeting and when it was over, Munger rose and in a loud voice asked, "Is Janet Lowe here?" The assembled audience of several hundred people craned their necks searching for the culprit, and a few who know me pointed in my direction. I timidly stood, "Yes, Mr. Munger." He rose from his chair and declared, "Follow me," and turned and marched out a back door. I waved goodbye to my husband and friend, not sure when I would see them again. Munger silently led the way up the elevator and to a private office where he told me that the Munger family didn't want a biography of him. They could see their cherished privacy slipping away. Being a fundamentally shy person who doesn't enjoy confrontation, I did not find this meeting easy. But I explained that I had signed a contract and would need to deliver the book, even if he did not cooperate. I said, however, that I believed the book would be much better if he did. "All right then," Munger barked. "You can start by reading these books." He handed over a long list of his favorites, including Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Later, Munger told me that he went through phases, at first opposing the book, then trying to minimize the damage, and in the end, working right beside me, trying to make the events of his life as understandable as possible. It clearly wasn't always easy for him, especially when I pressed for details about the death of his son and the misguided surgery that left Charlie blind in one eye.

Nevertheless, Munger sat for long interviews at his home in Santa Barbara, his office in Los Angeles, and twice at his sister's home in Omaha. The Mungers invited my husband and me to their vacation retreat in Northern Minnesota, where I spent several days interviewing family and neighbors, but also went hiking, boating, fishing, and hanging out with the Mungers.

I have been researching and writing this book for three years. Although some of the research builds on work done earlier on value investor Benjamin Graham and his star pupil Buffett, that material could only serve as background. Munger's photograph has appeared on the cover of Forbes and he has been profiled in a couple of newspapers, but there is very little written about him. More than 75 percent of the research in this book is original. I've done 44 interviews with 33 different persons. I attended eight Berkshire shareholder meetings and five Wesco Financial Corporation annual meetings, where Munger is alone on the stage and doesn't hold back anything. I worked with transcripts of about a half dozen speeches that Munger gave in various places, including one for his class reunion at Harvard Law School.

Although he became involved in the project, Charlie tried to resist the temptation to direct the book, other than to say often that he hoped it would emphasize the lessons he's learned during his 76 years of life. He would like others to benefit from his errors and successes. Indeed, the lessons of his life are not so much in the telling as in the living. The way he and his wife raised eight children through all kinds of adversity—how Munger constantly strove to maximize his talents and his financial situation, the responsibility he feels to be a connected, contributing citizen—all that is something of a saga. While writing this book, I often burst out laughing, but there were times I winced in pain or felt sorrow. Life threw Charlie about everything it had.

While Munger is a one-of-a-kind, he also is typical of the fusion of West Coast culture with Midwestern values, which took place primarily in the first half of the twentieth century. If Buffett shows that it is possible to be an alpha male investor and live and work in Omaha, a city not known as a financial center, Munger shows that despite some commonly held assumptions, valuable, innovative financial, and cultural ideas can and do flow from west to east.

Munger often lectures on big ideas that can change your life, but in those speeches he does not give detailed instructions on what to do. He hands his listeners a map with which they can find the treasure of wisdom, and like any good treasure map, it's so simple that it is deceptive. You don't get the treasure until you figure out what the instructions mean and follow them to the end.

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Table of Contents

An Extraordinary Combination of Minds.

The Lake—A Place That Defines Munger.

The Nebraskans.

Surviving the Wars.

Putting Together a New Life.

Munger Makes His First Million.

A Combination of Big Ideas.

Pound-for-Pound, the Best Law Firm.

Operating Wheeler, Munger Out of a Utility Room.

Blue Chip Stamps.

See's Candy Teaches a Lesson.

The Belous Case.

The Buffalo Evening News.

Charlie Munger Goes to War with the Savings and Loan Industry.

The Blossoming of Berkshire Hathaway.

Berkshire in the 1990s—Power Building.

Salomon Brothers.

The Daily Journal Corporation—A Modest Media Empire.

Doing Good at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Elder Statesman and Conscience of the Investment World.

A Time to Reap Rewards.

Appendix A. Wheeler, Munger Partnership.

Appendix B. Interview List.

Appendix C. Time Line—The Life and Career of Charles T. Munger.

Appendix D. Charles T. Munger's Speeches.



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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2001

    Interesting Personal Details of a Famous Investor

    This book is a standard, well-written biography of Mr. Munger, Berkshire Hathaway's vice chairman. From this book, you will learn a great deal about how Mr. Munger became a billionaire, his relationship with Mr. Warren Buffett (Berkshire's more famous chairman), his family life, and his charitable activities. This book is a very enjoyable read from those perspectives. On the other hand, it lacks a full exposition of Mr. Munger's investment philosophy and his interesting ideas about what an ideal education is. Since Mr. Munger is famous for being quite voluble in private and he made himself available for this biography, I was puzzled why both areas are sketchily covered. As a result, this book falls far short of what readers will want to know. Conversely, I suspect that this is the best available book on Mr. Munger, so you may well want to read it until a more complete one emerges. To me, the most interesting part of the book came in Appendix D where two of Mr. Munger's speeches describe the need for a generalist perspective for applying modern scientific ideas to making good decisions. One talks about the scientific principles that explain Coca-Cola's long-term success. Obviously, this has a nice connection to investing since Berkshire Hathaway is a large investor in Coca-Cola. Presumably, this describes some of the thinking that went into the decision to purchase that stock. But that is never made explicit. I immediately wanted to know more. How had Mr. Munger analyzed each of the major investments that Mr. Buffett and he had made together? What were the things that turned out to be right about these analyses and what wrong? What are the lessons? You get a great deal about the relationship between Mr. Munger and Mr. Buffett, including how they met, but very little on these kinds of important questions. I had to grade the book down for this because I found this like writing a biography of Michelangelo without discussing his art or creative process. In these same speeches, Mr. Munger is eloquent about what is right and what is wrong about education and how people apply it. Apparently, he considers himself mostly self-educated despite having a law degree from Harvard. All of us who believe in self-education would have benefited from knowing more about what he believes should be read and how to apply it. I graded the book down a second star for that. This is like writing a biography of Gandhi without considering his ideas on nonviolence. The book also leaves some loose ends. Mr. Munger is described as a very fine decision maker throughout. Yet in many personal situations, he seems impulsive rather than a good decision maker. The book recounts how he ended up losing his vision in one eye as a result of complications he would not have experienced if his surgeon had used the most modern laser procedure to remove a cataract. Most people would spend quite a bit of time getting the information ahead of time, and opt for the safer surgery. Apparently, Mr. Munger did not take the time to investigate. The book also recounts family tales of Mr. Munger (who doesn't see well, of course) running his boat into the plants and getting stuck, even after being warned that he is about to do so. On another occasion, he swamped a boat by turning backward rapidly in a boat he was unfamiliar with that was not designed for that maneuver. These apparent contradictions are there in the material, but are not developed. Is he someone who is trigger happy and shoots 19 times to hit 3 targets, is he just oblivious to anything except making money, or is he a cautious, careful thinker in all areas? I cannot tell. The book describes him as Mr. Buffett's 'Mr. No' so it may be that Mr. Buffett does not rely on him for ideas, but for checking out Mr. Buffett's ideas. But that doesn't seem right either, because most of Berkshire Hathaway's successful early investments are ones that came from California and related to interests of Mr. Munger's. S

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2004


    Charlie Munger's life story is a version of the classic American Dream: a hard-working young man builds a billion-dollar fortune through hard work and honest business deals, all the while raising eight children with the help of an intelligent, devoted wife. Author Janet Lowe brings this story and Munger's personality to life with well-chosen anecdotes from family, friends and business associates. These include, most notably, Warren Buffett, with whom she already enjoyed a rapport thanks to her work on a previous bestseller, Warren Buffett Speaks. Because Munger's business history is so complex, the chapters are organized thematically rather than strictly chronologically, which can be a bit confusing. Thankfully, Lowe provides a handy timeline in an appendix. We suggest this book to investors, Buffett fans (who may underestimate the contributions others such as Munger have made to the Berkshire Hathaway empire) and to those dismayed by corporate corruption who could use this tale of honest success to renew their faith in capitalism.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2000

    Charlie Munger is Righteous

    The irascible Charles Munger, Sr. is brought to life in Janet Lowe's intelligent and informed portrait of the man who, along with the more visable Warren Buffett, has shaped Berkshire Hathaway into the greatest investment vehicle of all time. One gets a greater respect for Munger's contribution to Berkshire's essence and net worth. Munger is a very humourous man, whose mulit-disciplinary approach to life and business is inspirational. This book is chock-a-block full of life lessons, often applied to investments, but which resonate in a larger sense. Great annecdotes. Janet Lowe has done it again.

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