Today is Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett's birthday. He is 88, but the best birthday present he ever received came long ago, before he made his first penny — before he was even born. It didn't come wrapped; it doesn't even take a physical form. It's called luck.
Of course Buffett's made a lot of money — for those who like playing around with numbers, like Buffett does, his fortune works out to millions of dollars per each day of his life. But even some of Berkshire Hathaway's most recent big bets paying off, led by Apple, Berkshire is trailing the the S&P 500 this year. Not a year goes by that people, including Buffett himself, don't comment on how much harder it is for him to keep up his long-term lucky streak against the index. (His estate plan for his wife is to have her invest 90 percent of her money in the S&P 500 and 10 percent in government bonds.)
The billionaire investor's long-term approach to the markets, shrewdness when it comes to valuing stocks and businesses, and temperament, are a unique skill set that Buffett has used to his advantage. He said in an HBO documentary about his life that he looked back with more sentimentality on old Moody's tomes on securities than family artifacts, which suggests something in his makeup was probably made for picking stocks. But luck, or winning the "ovarian lottery," as Buffett called it, has been an instrumental factor in building his billionaire fortune. And luck doesn't get the recognition it deserves as a success factor.
Analysis of the traits of billionaires and the effort to uncover their secret to success tend to go granular: Do they awake at 4 a.m.? Do they write handwritten notes from their CEO desk to everyone, even the little people? Or does success tend to circle around some new (and not necessarily improved) versions of habits already covered by the likes of Stephen Covey? Some billionaires feel the need to write treatises on what has made their success unique — such as hedge fund legend Ray Dalio's recent "Principles" or the Koch brothers philosophy of market-based management detailed in "The Science of Success."
Buffett has written a lot through annual letters to shareholders over the years on the right ways to invest, but he has never attempted to sum it all up in a easy-to-read self-help guide to success. That may be one reason why Twitter users were so easily fooled this week into thinking a series of fake Buffett tweets on lessons to live by were really from Buffett. (He told CNBC on Thursday that he has better things to do than tweet.)