Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Luck

As I was about to board my flight last night from Dallas to Kansas City to start the work week, Southwest made an announcement that they needed someone to give up their seat. They were offering $200 plus the value of the ticket, $160, plus they would put you on the first flight in the morning.

Since I could easily just go home and get on the flight the next morning (the flight I would take anyway if I didn't want to avoid getting up at 4 a.m.), I jumped all over that. One more free trip somewhere to use next time I'm staffed in Dallas and can't leverage my weekend flights.

So they gave me the voucher. Sweet. Easy $360.

Then right after they gave me the voucher, they noticed there were a few no shows for the flight.

"We might still be able to get you on this," they said.

"Will I still get the voucher?" I wanted to know.

"Of course"

Easiest $360 ever.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Am I risk-averse?

"The School System sought to create a risk averse set of professionals (i.e doctors, lawyers, dentists, bankers) and paid little attention to encouraging "creative" types."

Here:

Assuming he would put big consulting on that list, he's saying I'm risk averse. Compare that to my good friend and business partner Eric. He's in a very high risk profession, running a start up. Startups typically either flame-out or hit it big.

What is the most desirable? You certainly look at some of the big successful people that are influential thinkers, have made a lot of money, or have had a big impact on something and think that would be great. You don't, of course, hear about all of the people that tried to get there and didn't get anywhere.

I've been trying to decide where I want my life to lead. I think I'd ideally like a little bit of both. Perhaps doing big consulting now is to build a network, get a lot of valuable skills, and have it lead to more opportunities later. Who's to say that I can't then transition into something more "risky"?

Interestingly, the person who wrote the quote at the beginning of this said that professors count as a high-risk job. I'm not sure how I feel about that. He's specifically an econ professor. Aren't all people who get a PhD in econ going to do relatively well anyways?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When academics get far too specific

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Monday, May 19, 2008

I was there

Here's a story about the irony of Bill Gates and Sue Decker at the Berkshire annual meeting. He's talking about this moment, when I snapped a picture of Gates.

If Bill Gates and Sue Decker were involved in the minute-by-minute details of Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo—and Steve Ballmer’s subsequent withdrawal of that bid, announced an hour and a half after their paths more or less crossed in the Qwest exhibition hall—it didn’t show at the Berkshire meeting.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The most bizarre part of my impending birthday

I am flying to Tucson tomorrow to go to my sister's graduation. Typically you have to be 25 to be able to rent car (without paying a huge surcharge).

If I will turn 25 in the middle of my 3 day rental, does that count?

I honestly want to call Hertz to ask that right now as I'm looking into renting a car.

Also, I signed up for a bank account last Saturday and was informed that I could qualify for the no-fee "college checking" because I wasn't 25 yet. Clutch.

Buying opportunity?

Remember as Berkshire Hathaway B shares were approaching (and eventually passed) $5000, and I lamented that I hadn't bought more
And conversely, although it is so exciting to see Berkshire Hathaway (B shares) above $4900 each, I wish they would go down, a lot, so I could buy more.
(Here)

Well they're around $4100 now. I'm back to buying more. You might look into it yourself. Note that it is considered a financial stock, yet it's total write downs in the crisis - $0.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Interesting sentence

The single easiest thing a consumer can do about climate change is to eat less beef.

From this article about Taco Bell and Fiji Water trying to be green conscious

Natural Gas boom in Ft. Worth

Fort Worth, which is adjacent to Dallas and forms the other big piece of the DFW metroplex, is now feeling very good about itself because it sits on the nation's largest natural gas field. This article gives more background.
The upside is palpable around town. Once-struggling oilmen and big landowners are suddenly flush with gas money, while thousands of average homeowners are now collecting modest monthly royalty checks. According to an industry-funded study, an estimated 84,000 jobs have been created throughout the region by the drilling boom. "It's created a new wealth in our city," declares Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief. "It's inoculated our economy. We find ourselves being an island in a sea of recession around us."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What would you ask Warren Buffett with one question?

Just got back after a weekend in Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. What a weekend. I've wanted to go for so long, and being in Kansas City it was just the perfect time to go. My friend Jessica met up with me and enjoyed it just as much as I did.

Hearing Buffett and Munger answer question for six hours made the whole trip worth it, but the best part - Jessica and I both got to ask him a question - in a packed arena and with 31,000 people there.

Now I've always dreamed of getting to ask him a question. I'd been thinking about it for a long time. But the more I thought about it, the harder it became. I read everything he says that I can get my hands on. It's the most bankable financial advice I've ever found. So I feel like I have a good idea of how he's going to respond to things.

I sat there in agony as the people before me (my question was 30th of the roughly 65 questions) asked some terrible questions.

"How can I grow my small business?", "How can I find good managers?", "What do you look for in a successor?", "What should I teach my class?". These among many others drove me crazy because he's answered them before and they come at the expense of much better questions. Also, people made their questions way too long. It drives me crazy when people are supposedly asking a question but really just want to say something. A few times Buffett politely cut people off to say, "is there a question?" Nobody wants to hear you talk, we all came here to hear Buffett people.

What I really wanted him to talk about was what he thinks about world trends and business trends. The closer those can be linked to actionable advice the better. But people weren't asking the right questions.

He invests $5+ billion in railroads and not one question? His earnings fall 2/3 the day before and nobody asks about it?

He'll let you ask about anything other than what they're buying and selling. No pre-screening, no other rules. It's quite an offer. I could list 50 questions I wanted to ask.

I thought about the time when one of my favorite bloggers Tyler Cowen offered to answer any single question for people that bought his book. At the time I thought that would be a good time to ask something personal because that's the only chance I would ever get. But I didn't particularly like my response. I realize I would have gotten a much better response had I just asked a basic open ended question about something I was curious about but which he hadn't addressed before.

Also, I wanted to ask my friend Jeff. He ended up suggesting something that I really liked and modified only slightly.

What did I finally settle on?

"Hi, I'm Ryan Johnson from Arizona. What do you think about the current food shortages in the world and what trends do you see in the next decade or two?

Notes on the actual question: a) it was one of those times when you're just completely in the moment. It felt like it was going so fast and so slow at the same time. Like I could think about three other things and still say my question clearly. b) they had a feedback speaker next to me so help correct for some of the delay between speaking and hearing it on the soundsystem. Now I know why at concerts there are always speakers pointed right at the band. c) my question was short and simple, just like it should be, and two people thanked me for my simple question immediately afterward. d) we were supposed to say our name and hometown. I spent a solid 10 minutes deciding where to say I was from. Dallas? No way. Phoenix? I haven't lived there in 6 years. Tucson? That's not quite right. I finally settled on just Arizona. I suppose I'll probably answer that way until at least age 30.

So that was the high of my trip. I'll probably never speak to nearly that many people again and my idol was listening to me and only me for those 5 seconds. The low: only Charlie Munger answered the question. Buffett had commented on nearly every question before me, but because it was 2 questions before lunch, they were hurrying along. Munger said some things about it and called corn ethanol "stunningly stupid" and then there was a pause and when Buffett would usually have chimed in, he said simply, "how about mic 6". I was bummed.

But you can't win them all. Jessica would have a question after lunch, and we had an hour to think about it. We came up with the following.

"In light of your involvement in the Wrigley deal, how do you evaluate brand equity and how does it go into your valuation of a company?"

Pretty good question, right? Well two questions before her, someone else brought up brands (albeit with a poorly-worded, rambling question) and basically killed that idea.

So we were deciding between asking about two industries we really wanted to hear about, railroads and coal. Me being at a railroad now and understanding the logic of buying railroad stocks very well, we decided whatever he would say would be already known. Better to ask about coal.

"What future trends do you see for the coal industry? Does the lower cost outweigh the environmental effects of its use?"

That got one of my favorite responses of the day. Buffett talked about how in the short term, we'll probably increase it's use. He said people might not realize how much coal we use in this country. I can't remember exactly what he said but I'm sure it'll be on some websites soon and I'll link them then. Then Munger said something really insightful. He talked about how the conventional wisdom on the environmental impact of coal may be misguided. He says he actually thinks we should use coal before we use oil. He said it's much cleaner than it was not too long ago and is getting cleaner, plus it has no other uses, unlike oil, which is an input for so many other things we need.

So that question turned out to be a winner. I've been thinking about what question I would ask if I had another chance. I'll let you know in a year, because I'll do whatever I can to go to the meeting again.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bill Gates!

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Warrenstock!

Finally fulfilled my goal of going to see Buffett at the annual meeting.
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Friday, May 02, 2008

Kansas

In Kansas, they have a lot of tornado warnings, but last night's brought a chuckle.

I was listening to a hip hop station when the emergency broadcaster came on. They must use the same fuzzy recording they used 50 years ago.

As it ended, the music came back on. The song- "party like a rockstar".

It was like that part in independence day when the world was coming to an end but they're just dancing on the roof.
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