Leadership

The time Warren Buffett worked through Christmas day to give his first investors a gift they would never forget

American business magnate and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett has worked on Christmas day for years, starting when he was a young boy.

As a paperboy in his neighborhood, Buffett went door-to-door delivering newspapers on Christmas mornings and later worked a holiday shift selling menswear at JCPenney during college, as he recounted in Alice Schroeder's biographical book, "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life."

Notably, Buffett has been interested in the stock market since he bought his first stock at 11.

Starting in 1956, Buffett ran his first investment fund Buffett Partnership, Ltd. and grew an initial $105,100 investment to $105 million in assets over 13 years. But worried about Wall Street's future, Buffett decided to shut the firm down in 1969.

That year, he worked through Christmas to ensure investors would still receive sizeable profits.

Here's how the fund started: In 1956, 26-year-old Buffett moved back to his hometown of Omaha, Neb. after working a couple of years in New York City at his mentor Benjamin Graham's investment firm, as author Janet Lowe detailed in the book "Warren Buffett Speaks." Now back at home, the Columbia Business School graduate "had no idea" what he was going to do.

A few months later, some members of Buffett's family asked him for advice on what they should be doing with their money, he recalled in the HBO documentary "Becoming Warren Buffett."

"Well, I'm not going back in the business of selling stocks, but if you would like to join me in a partnership, I would be glad to do it," Buffett told them and Buffett Partnerships, Ltd. was born.

Buffett collected $105,000 from his first investors— most of whom were family — and he put down $100.

"I wrote all the checks individually, I filed 11 income tax returns, I took delivery on stocks for all these different companies," Buffett said. "I was a one man band there for six years."

When first starting the investment business, Buffett told his investors, "I'll run it like I run my own money, and I'll take part of the losses and part of the profits. And I won't tell you what I'm doing," The New York Times later reported in 1990.

The investors handed over their total trust to Buffett as he "made a lot of money by thinly companies that were incredibly cheap, statistically," Charlie Munger, Buffett's longtime partner and friend, said in "Becoming Warren Buffett."

By 1962, the partners had invested $7 million — a fair amount was profit according to Buffett — and the firm continued performing remarkably well. In 1966, he closed the partnership off to new partners.

Despite the firm's success, Buffett was weary of the economic climate around him.

"In the late 1960s, there was just a flood of accounting shenanigans and mergers built upon false accounting and misleading people," Buffett said. "It was a time when a lot of charlatans were prevailing on Wall Street and were being applauded by Wall Street. And I understood what the game was about but I didn't want to play in it."

In "Warren Buffett Speaks," Lowe wrote that although 1968 was Buffett's most successful year with the partnership, he no longer could find suitable bargains. Therefore, he planned to shutter the partnership and liquidate the assets.

While running Buffett Partnership, Ltd. Buffett frequently wrote letters to his partners, but it was the letter he wrote over Christmas which stated the plans to dissolve the firm had been finalized.

"He continued working on the partnership dissolution over Christmas in Laguna Beach," Schroeder wrote. "He had bought his Christmas gifts with his usual efficiency."

Buffett bought dresses for "all the women in his life."

"I would go over and they'd wheel out the dresses. I'd make a variety of decisions and buy presents for my sister's Susie Gladys and so forth. I kind of enjoyed it," Buffett said.

"On December 26th, after the exchange of Christmas gifts, he sent the partners another long letter, going out of his way to answer at length a number of their questions," Schroeder wrote.

After closing down the partnership in 1969, Buffett took on the title of chairman for Berkshire Hathaway.

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