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专栏 - 斯坦福商学院评论

没了巴菲特,伯克希尔哈撒韦会怎样?

Ian Chipmann 2016年03月27日

本专栏由财富中文网与斯坦福商学院合作推出,荟萃来自该学院的最新研究智慧。斯坦福商学院一直以教授的前沿研究和专业的管理课程在全球范围内久负盛名,包括MBA项目和斯坦福“点燃”创新项目。
斯坦福大学的一个研讨会对后巴菲特时期的情况进行了展望。巴菲特从一开始就把正直、自主和持久的价值观深深植入了伯克希尔的每一层,只要继任者坚持这些理念,伯克希尔就能在巴菲特交权之后依然保持继续繁荣发展的最佳位置。

怎样取代那个不可替代的人?

对伯克希尔-哈撒韦公司以及84岁的董事长兼首席执行官沃伦•巴菲特来说,这是一个异常重要的问题。巴菲特在2016年2月发出了致股东信,而且在信中展望公司的未来。看来,对于伯克希尔的权力交接方案以及后巴菲特时期的情况,外界的猜测会越来越多。

几位非常熟悉伯克希尔以及巴菲特的人参加了在斯坦福大学洛克公司治理中心召开的研讨会,他们探讨的主题是“后巴菲特时代的伯克希尔-哈撒韦:价值的持久价值”。与会者透彻分析了巴菲特用于引导这家公司的三项核心价值,那就是正直、自主和持久。

除了巴菲特无可匹敌的投资智慧和商业才能,固守这三大价值也有助于伯克希尔-哈撒韦成为历史上最成功的企业之一。目前这家公司的市值约为3550亿美元。与会者都认为,巴菲特从一开始就把这些价值深深植入了伯克希尔的每一层,只要继任者坚持这些理念,伯克希尔就能在巴菲特交权之后依然保持继续繁荣发展的最佳位置。

1、正直的名誉

投资管理公司Gardner Russo & Gardner合伙人汤姆•拉索在斯坦福拿到了法学博士/MBA双学位。他回忆了1982年巴菲特教他们投资课程时说过的话。“沃伦在班上反复说的那些和他现在的发言内容一模一样。他先介绍了投资方面的常规内容,然后又说,‘进行投资时你必须知道一点,那就是不可能跟坏人做成好生意’。”

作为伯克希尔首批收购的公司之一,高档巧克力糖果零售商See’s Candies首席执行官布拉德•金斯勒指出,伯克希尔-哈撒韦确实是个巨大的综合体,有60多家规模各异的子公司,它们分属多个行业,成立时间也各不相同。然而,这些子公司都团结在一项承诺之下,那就是在经营活动中遵守职业道德。

金斯勒解释说,正确的行事方法就好像参加橄榄球比赛,如果越线,就处于错误的位置:“沃伦的哲学是‘我们要在场地中央活动,并且不打算靠近那些界线。我们根本不需要这样做,而且为了我们的声誉着想,我们最好也不要这样做。’”

的确,伯克希尔-哈撒韦几乎没有违背过职业道德,仅有的几次例外则验证了这条原则。乔治城大学法学教授劳伦斯•坎宁安著有《后巴菲特时代的伯克希尔》(Berkshire Beyond Buffett)一书。他举了本杰明摩尔涂料的例子。巴菲特在2000年收购了这家涂料生产和零售商。当时,他向经销商承诺,本杰明摩尔涂料将继续跟他们合作。这些经销商都是遍布美国的夫妻店,而非家得宝和劳氏公司这样的仓储型零售企业。坎宁安指出:“考虑到那些大型零售商的实力,在那段时间维持这种业务模式非常困难。”

这样做的难度是如此之大,以至于2007年上任的CEO丹尼斯•阿布拉姆斯差点儿在2012年跟劳氏签订了合作协议。但巴菲特发现了此事,随后炒掉了阿布拉姆斯。坎宁安说,现任CEO麦克•瑟尔斯承诺保持这样的经营模式并坚守伯克希尔的承诺,这样做是如此的难能可贵。他还把这种做法变成了一项竞争优势,说‘我们是唯一一家通过这些老式经销商进行销售的大型涂料厂商和零售商。’

2、自主的力量

伯克希尔-哈撒韦的各家子公司共有30多万名员工,在总部从事管理工作的却只有25人,其中包括巴菲特和副董事长查理••芒格。这样的公司高层/资产比例在任何商业模式中都几乎闻所未闻。怎么能做到这一点呢?

正如伯克希尔股东拿到的持股人手册所述,在商业决策方面,“我们几乎都依靠放权。”这种对自主的信任已经成为伯克希尔-哈撒韦这个品牌的标志之一。

金斯勒说:“我觉得我们成功的原因不是他告诉经理们要干什么,而是他允许经理们干什么。他允许他们在经营上做决定,并按他们认为合适的方法来发展业务。”

伯克希尔从一开始就树立了让这些公司保留自身标识和独立性的信念,这也是它获得今天成就的主要原因之一。正如拉索指出的那样:“对转让公司的人来说,伯克希尔是个友善的家。”

坎宁安指出,自主承诺一直都是伯克希尔吸引卖家的核心措施。举例来说,2008年金融危机爆发后,高盛等公司都通过伯克希尔来实现稳定自身投资的目的。

坎宁安说:“他们找的与其说是伯克希尔,还不如说是巴菲特。我觉得在很大程度上显然是巴菲特。不过,我也觉得他们来找巴菲特的原因现在已经成了伯克希尔的文化,那就是自主。”

伯克希尔董事苏•德克尔补充道:“从某个角度来说,复制这些业务本身倒不怎么难,难的是找到能像巴菲特那样吸引卖家的人。”

3、持久的承诺

与会者都认为,伯克希尔最能打动人的力量之一就是长期承诺。实际上,在巴菲特掌权的近50年时间里,伯克希尔从未出售过一家收购来的子公司。

坎宁安指出:“我觉得持久的承诺是伯克希尔的核心价值之一,也是我认为这家公司能延续下去的原因之一。把公司转让给伯克希尔的人会发现,这项承诺的吸引力极大,特别是那些已经把企业打造成型而且希望保留其名号的家族,以及希望自己的公司在任何情况下都能稳定运营的创业者。”

他还强调了建立一个公司群体并让所有公司都具有正直、自主和持久这三项核心价值的真正力量:“通过有选择地收购那些在文化上适合这个大家庭的公司,文化营养不断得到加强。只要这个家庭中的每个成员都奉行这些价值而且不偏离它们,它几乎就可以自行维持下去。人会做错事,但这种文化本身的强大和持久会超出大家的预料。”

坎宁安还说:“真正的危险在于激进股东会迫使继任者改变这样的做法,卖掉陷入困境的子公司,告诉新的CEO要在这方面或那方面做得更好。为了建立一家不朽的企业,巴菲特已经做了所有可能做到的事,但今后这家公司会面临压力。”(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

校对:詹妮

How do you replace the irreplaceable?

It’s an especially salient question for Berkshire Hathaway and its 84-year-old Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett. Speculation about the company’s succession plan and what a post-Buffett Berkshire Hathaway will look like is mounting in advance of the company’s annual letter to shareholders, due in February, in which Buffett has promised to reveal his vision for the company’s future.

A panel of speakers, all intimately familiar with the company and its iconic leader, convened at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance for a discussion titled “Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values.” The panelists homed in on three core values that Buffett has used to guide his company: integrity, autonomy, and permanence.

In addition to Buffett’s unparalleled mix of investment savvy and business acumen, an unswerving commitment to these three values helped make Berkshire Hathaway one of the most successful companies in history, with a market capitalization of around $355 billion. And, the panelists agreed, by embedding those values deep into every level of his company from the beginning, Buffett has put Berkshire Hathaway in the best position to thrive after he hands off the reins — so long as any successor holds true to them.

A Reputation for Integrity

Tom Russo, partner at Gardner Russo & Gardner and a JD/MBA graduate of Stanford, remembers when Buffett spoke to his investing class in 1982. “The refrains that Warren touched upon in class are really the same things he talks about today,” Russo says. “He said all the standard investment stuff, but then he said, ‘When you’re making an investment, you have to understand one thing: You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.’”

Indeed, while Berkshire Hathaway is a vast conglomerate of 60-plus businesses of different sizes, in different sectors, and founded at different times, the subsidiaries are united by a commitment to conduct their business in an ethical manner, says Brad Kinstler, CEO of See’s Candies, one of the first companies bought by Berkshire Hathaway.

The right way to do things, Kinstler explains, is to imagine a football field, where if you go outside the lines, you are in the wrong. “Warren’s philosophy would be, ‘We want to play down the center of the field. We don’t want to get anywhere close to the out-of-bounds lines. We simply don’t need to, and for our reputation, it’s best that we don’t.’”

Indeed, the rare ethical breaches at Berkshire Hathaway are exceptions that prove the rule. Consider the example of Benjamin Moore Paint, says Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett and a professor of law at Georgetown University. When Berkshire acquired the paint manufacturer and retailer in 2000, Buffett promised the company’s distributors that it would continue to work with them. These were mom-and-pop shops across the country, rather than big-box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s. “That’s a very difficult business model to sustain these days, given the power of those big retailers,” Cunningham notes.

So difficult that Denis Abrams, who took over as CEO of Benjamin Moore in 2007, was nearing a deal with Lowe’s in 2012 — until Buffett found out about it and fired him. “Now the current CEO, Mike Searles, is committed to that model and committed to keeping that Berkshire promise, which is so valuable. And he’s turned it into a competitive advantage, saying ‘We’re the only big paint manufacturer and retailer that’s selling through those old-fashioned distributors,’” Cunningham says.

The Power of Autonomy

While more than 300,000 people work for Berkshire Hathaway in its various subsidiaries, they are overseen by a mere 25 people — including Buffett and Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger — from corporate headquarters. This ratio of corporate overhead to company assets is almost unheard of in any business setting. What makes it possible?

As stated in the Owner’s Manual distributed to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, when it comes to business decisions, “We delegate almost to the point of abdication.” This belief in autonomy has become one of the hallmarks of the Berkshire Hathaway brand.

“I think we’re successful not because he tells the managers what to do, but it’s what he allows us to do,” Kinstler says. “He allows us to make the decisions to run the businesses and develop that business as we see fit.”

This conviction from early on to let companies retain their identity and independence is a large part of what has made Berkshire Hathaway, as Russo calls it, “a virtuous home for people selling great businesses.”

Cunningham says that commitment to autonomy has been central to the company’s efforts to invite sellers. One example: After the 2008 financial collapse, companies like Goldman Sachs looked to Berkshire Hathaway for a stabilizing investment.

“Weren’t they going to Warren Buffett rather than going to Berkshire Hathaway? I think there’s obviously a huge amount to that,” Cunningham says. “But I think they went to him for reasons that are now identified as Berkshire culture: that autonomy.”

“In some ways,” Berkshire board member Sue Decker added, “the harder question is not so much the replication of the businesses themselves, but getting someone who can attract sellers in the same way that Warren has.”

The Promise of Permanence

One of the most powerfully communicated values of Berkshire Hathaway, the panel agreed, is a commitment to the long haul. In fact, Berkshire Hathaway has never, in its nearly 50-year history under Buffett, sold a subsidiary it acquired.

“That commitment of permanence is I think the single central value of Berkshire Hathaway. It’s one of the reasons why I argue the company’s built to last,” says Cunningham. “Sellers of businesses to Berkshire find that commitment extremely attractive, especially families who have built up a legacy and want to preserve the identity and entrepreneurs who are seeking security in the operation of their businesses through thick and thin.”

Cunningham also highlights the true strength of building a confederation of companies that share those core values of integrity, autonomy, and permanence. “Through a process of selective acquisitions of companies that have cultures that fit in with this family,” he says, “there’s an iterative reinforcing process of cultural sustenance. So long as everybody in the family embraces these values, and doesn’t deviate from them, it’s almost self-sustaining. People can screw it up, but the culture itself is surprisingly strong and durable.”

“The real danger,” Cunningham adds, “is activist shareholders who will pressure those successors to change that, to sell this subsidiary because it’s struggling, to tell this CEO to do better on this, that, or the other thing. He’s done everything you can possibly do to create an enduring company, but there will be pressures in the future.”

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