Why Warren Buffett Made the Long Trip to Asia
CNBC's Becky Quick traveled exclusively with Warren Buffett on a whirlwind tour of China and South Korea. All this morning on Squawk Box, she is reporting in-depth on the trip and what it tells us about Buffett's investment philosophy.
In this report, she explains what lured Buffett away from home base in Omaha to make the big trip. That's followed by an interview with Buffett-watcher Whitney Tilson, Managing Partner at T2 Partners and the Tilson Mutual Funds. They discuss how to think and invest like Warren Buffett.
Becky: It's not easy to get Warren Buffett to leave his comfort zone in Omaha, Nebraska.
Warren (walking with Becky to jet): I've got plenty to do here.
Becky: But for Iscar, the Israeli metal working company Berkshire Hathaway bought a year and a half ago, the billionnaire investor says he'll do anything.
Warren: They've done so much for me that, you know, I am going to say yes to anything they ask me.
Becky: Any anything, in this case, is agreeing to a whirlwind tour to open one plant in China and visit another in South Korea. So, what makes Iscar so special?
Warren: I got a letter in October of 2005 from a man I didn't know about a company I'd never heard of and it was a page and a quarter long and it just jumped off the page that these were the kind of people I'd want to be associated with and the kind of company.
Becky: The letter came from Eitan Wertheimer, Iscar's Chairman.
Wertheimer (from news conference): .. Our job is to fine very good customers and make very good products for those customers and create value, and that's what we do best.
Becky (at Iscar factory in China): The factory floors here are all painted yellow. You can see this. It is a signature of Iscar. They make sure they paint the factory floors yellow so that dirt can't hide. That's one way they say everything stays clean. It's a very important point and they say it's one thing that distinguishes Iscar factories from other factories all over the world.
Becky: Another distinguishing factor: everything here is automated .. from the processes you see, to even those you don't, like employee scheduling and logistics. The plant in China is a feat in itself. It went up in just six months - something Buffett says could only happen here.
Buffett: There were no roadblocks of any kind, whatsoever. The people worked hard, they got it done fast. The customers want the product and we are going to be supplying it to them.
Becky: There are high hopes for this plant in Dalian.
Buffett: Just thatplant right now in its present size will have several hundred million dollars of potential but we've got room to expand.
Becky: But the real Asian tiger in Iscar's portfolio is its plant in Daegu, South Korea. Iscar bought the plant nine years ago from the Korean government. Today, the compound spans more than 60 acres. And the technology here is state of the art. That's why Iscar can charge $20,000 to $30,000 for just one of these. Just one of the many reasons Buffett is smiling.
Buffett: What I saw in South Korea and the new plant that is just developing in China and what I'd earlier seen in Israel I've never seen in 77 years of life, I have never seen a better factory operation than the Iscar people have put together in each of those places. They know as much about manufacturing as anybody I've ever seen.
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