Charlie Munger (1924 - 2023)
A life well lived
“Berkshire Hathaway could not have been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom and participation.”
Charlie Munger died this morning at a California hospital just weeks short of his 100th birthday on January 1. Based on recent interviews, those of us who have admired Mr. Munger can be grateful for the fact that he clearly remained mentally sharp up to the very end. The cruelest outcome for a man of Mr. Munger’s intellect would involve cognitive decline and it is a blessing that he avoided that fate.
It is difficult to write an adequate tribute to a man like Charlie Munger. In the coming days, the Wall Street Journal and others in the financial media will run obituaries that document his long life and his many accomplishments. All of these articles will be inadequate when it comes to explaining the impact Mr. Munger had on countless individuals, most of whom he never knew personally. I count myself in this group.
Few knew Charlie Munger better than his longtime business partner. Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders paid tribute to Charlie Munger’s role at the company. Mr. Munger’s impact on Warren Buffett’s evolution as an investor cannot be overstated. I have written much about this impact over the years but, for now, suffice it to say that Charlie Munger was far more than Warren Buffett’s “right-hand man”, as he is often described. Mr. Munger’s influence at Berkshire Hathaway clearly added hundreds of billions of dollars of value to the enterprise.
But Charlie Munger was far more than a brilliant investor. He was an intellectual who gained fluency in an astonishing variety of fields purely through self-study.
I first read Poor Charlie’s Almanack nearly two decades ago while still working in a career that I no longer enjoyed and in need of inspiration that went far beyond how to make better investments. Mr. Munger’s wisdom resonated deeply, particularly his speech on the psychology of human misjudgment. Had I never read these thoughts on common cognitive errors, I would be far poorer, both financially and intellectually. A kind and generous reader later arranged to have Mr. Munger write a note to me in a copy of the third edition of the Almanack. It remains a prized possession to this day.
All too many famous people eventually fall from grace and disappoint their admirers. But Charlie Munger never did anything that made me feel disappointed or lose any respect for him. This does not mean that I agreed with everything that he said or did. But I never doubted that he was a man of good faith and an exemplar worthy of admiration and emulation. In today’s world, having exemplars to look up to is not only important but essential to avoid falling into the trap of cynicism.
I am at somewhat of a loss regarding what more to write at this time aside from expressing a profound sense of sadness as well as gratitude for the wisdom Charlie Munger shared with all of us over a long and productive lifetime. On his 99th birthday earlier this year, I wrote a review of Damn Right which is still the only biography of Charlie Munger. However, the review was really more of a tribute. In the back of my mind, I knew that reaching 100 was not assured.
Along with countless others in the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder community, I would like to send my condolences to Charlie Munger’s family, friends, and colleagues.
Rest in peace.