Learning from the man with the golden touch

The Straits Times Recruit

Knowledge is priceless and that's why there is such a thing like a million-dollar lunch.

Recently, a man in Singapore won the chance to dine with American billionaire Warren Buffett in an online charity auction.

The fact that the man, called Andy Chua, would fork out US$2.17 million (S$2.71 million) just to have a private lunch with the world's third richest man is testament to Mr Buffett's reputation as a legendary investment guru.

A young genius

Warren Edward Buffett was born on 30 August, 1930, in Omaha, Nebraska, the second child out of three children, and the only boy. His father was a stockbroker and a US Congressman, while his mother was a homemaker.

Mr Buffett displayed extraordinary financial acumen at an early age, and was described by friends as something of a mathematical prodigy who was able to add large columns of numbers in his head - something which he still does today.

As a child, Mr Buffett often helped his stockbroker father chalk in stock prices on a blackboard at his office. At age 11, he bought three shares of Cities Service Preferred at $38 per share. "I made my first investment at age 11. I was wasting my life up until then."

The price then dropped, but Mr Buffett held on until the price rose to $40, and quickly sold the shares for a small profit.

However, the price later rose to $200 a share. Mr Buffett has often cited this incident when talking about the importance of patience while investing.

20 tips from Warren Buffett

Click on thumbnail to view. Story continues after photos. Photos: AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg

Two years later, at the age of 13, the enterprising Mr Buffett was already running his own businesses - as a paperboy and selling his own horseracing tip sheet.

During his tenure at Woodrow Wilson High School after his family had moved to Washington D.C., Mr Buffett and his friends even bought a used pinball machine for $25, installing it in a barbershop.

They soon made enough money to buy three machines, before Mr Buffett sold them away to a war veteran for $1,200.

Saved a fair bit

Mr Buffett enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to study business. Two years later, he moved to the University of Nebraska- Lincoln - graduating with a Bachelor of Science in business administration.

He was rejected by Harvard Business School, but decided to enrol at Columbia Business School after learning that well-known securities analysts, Benjamin Graham (the author of The Intelligent Investor, one of Mr Buffett's favourite investment books) and David Dodd taught there. Mr Buffett earned a Master of Science in economics in 1951.

He shared: "The basic ideas of investing are to look at stocks as business, use the market's fluctuations to your advantage, and seek a margin of safety.

That's what Ben Graham taught us. A hundred years from now they will still be the cornerstones of investing."

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