Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charlie Munger had a personal net worth of $2.7 billion. Photo: Reuters
Obituary

Charlie Munger Warren Buffett's right-hand man dies aged 99

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Charlie Munger, vice chairman of investment conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett’s long-time friend and business partner, has died at the age of 99.

Mr Munger died at a California hospital on Tuesday, according to Berkshire Hathaway. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday on New Year’s Day.

He was vice chairman of Berkshire from 1978 and had one of the most successful business relationships and a six-decade friendship with Mr Buffett, 93, who he met at a dinner party in 1959.

“It is better to associate with people who are better than you are,” Mr Buffett told CNBC in 2021, referring to his friendship with Mr Munger.

“I knew after I met Charlie, after a few minutes in the restaurant, I knew that this guy’s going to be in my life forever. [I knew] we were gonna have fun together, we were gonna make money together, we were gonna get ideas from each other [and] we were both going to behave better than if we didn’t know each other.”

Charlie Munger – in pictures

Mr Munger had a net worth of $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.

As Mr Buffett’s “right-hand man” for more than four decades, Mr Munger was instrumental in the growth of Berkshire into a diversified holding company with a market capitalisation of $784.94 billion and subsidiaries operating in insurance, freight rail transport, energy generation and transmission, manufacturing and retail.

In addition to serving as independent director of retailer Costco, Mr Munger was chairman of the board of the Daily Journal, a Los Angeles-based publishing company. From 1984 through to 2011, he also served as chairman and chief executive of Wesco Financial Corporation, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924, Mr Munger worked, as a teenager, at Buffett and Son, a grocer owned by Mr Buffett’s grandfather.

During the Second World War, he enrolled at the University of Michigan to study mathematics but dropped out a few days after his 19th birthday in 1943 to serve in the US Army Air Corps, where he trained as a meteorologist.

He later continued his studies in meteorology at Caltech in Pasadena, California, the town that became his lifelong home.

After entering Harvard Law School – without an undergraduate degree – Mr Munger graduated magna cum laude in 1948.

As a property lawyer in those early years, he founded Munger, Tolles and Olson, a California law firm.

Mr Munger was a long-time proponent of value investing and holding stocks over extended periods of time.

The Berkshire version of value investing became successful by following his mantra: “Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.”

Mr Munger was famous for his direct approach and investment genius. When Mr Buffett dodged questions about cryptocurrency during a question-and-answer session at a 2021 shareholder meeting, Mr Munger said bluntly that Bitcoin was “created out of thin air” and was a “go-to payment method for criminals”.

He was alarmed that billions of dollars were being sent to “somebody who just invented a new financial product out of thin air”.

One of Mr Munger’s most frequently quoted sayings was: “Good businesses are ethical businesses. A business model that relies on trickery is doomed to fail.”

The billionaire investor was also not a fan of passive investment funds or index funds such as those managed by BlackRock and Vanguard. Such funds track indexes instead of trying to beat the market by picking specific stocks.

“We have a new bunch of emperors, and they are the people who vote the shares in the index funds,” Mr Munger said at an annual meeting of the Daily Journal last year. “I think the world of Larry Fink, but I am not sure I want him to be my emperor.”

Like Mr Buffett, Mr Munger was also an active philanthropist and donated millions of dollars to universities.

Mr Munger’s philanthropy was focused on education, including large donations to the University of Michigan Law School, including $3 million for lighting improvements in 2007 and $20 million for housing renovations in 2011.

He also donated $43.5 million in Berkshire Hathaway stock to Stanford University in 2004 for the construction of a graduate student housing complex and $200 million to the University of California in 2016 for student housing.

As Mr Buffett once said: “Charlie marches to the beat of his own music, and it is music like virtually no one else is listening to.”

Mr Munger had eight children from two marriages.

Updated: November 30, 2023, 1:18 PM