September 30, 2021
The Wisdom and Experience of Investing Greats
Recap of a Discussion between Bill Miller and William Green
If you haven’t read William Green’s Richer, Happier, Wiser: How the World’s Greatest Investors Win at Markets and Life, we encourage you to go pick up a copy or download on Audible. The book is rich with stories Green has curated from more than 25 years of interviewing the world’s greatest investors. I was hooked on the first chapter on Mohnish Pabrai – his straight shooter attitude and unbelievable commitment to educating children in India – and feared that the book would slow down from there. I was totally wrong. In every chapter, Green weaves the wisdom and experience of these great minds, and often greater humans, into clear and thoughtful takeaways for anyone to apply in their life – investor or not.
I was fortunate to hear a discussion between Bill Miller and William Green recently where these two great minds talked a lot about the messages in the book. Miller kicked off the discussion asking Green why he found an interest in writing about investing? Green has a worldly background; from England originally, he has worked for major publications interviewing business leaders in China, India, Japan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the U.S., Mexico, England, France, Monaco, Poland, Italy, and Russia. But he said post University, he had no interest in business, investing and finance as he assumed anyone who worked on Wall Street was probably superficial and greedy.
Green credits Miller for getting him interested in both pragmatic philosophy and in stoic philosophy. Miller, who studied Philosophy in the doctorate program at The Johns Hopkins University, has leaned on philosophers throughout his life, often supporting or challenging his perspective as an investor. Green tells the story that he first met Miller in 2001 right after 9/11. The market was falling apart and Miller was able to act coolly and calmly in the face of the panic by drawing on the writings of Wittgenstein and William James. Miller noted that Buddhism, stoicism and pragmatic philosophy are recurrent themes in the book, to which Green replied that investing is just another form of worldly wisdom and the teachings of these disciplines are tremendously applicable. It’s no surprise the practices of meditating, studying, reading and journaling are common among the investors profiled in the book.
It’s fascinating to hear Green draw out stories and experience in a conversation, leveraging his own expansive understanding of how these great minds work to find a common thread that characterizes a long career. As he spoke with Miller, the conversation turned to the idea of misperception. It’s interesting to think about misperception in a longer term perspective, over the life of a career for example, as you can see all of the different ways it can manifest in your practice as an investor. Miller told a great story that early in his career he discussed Fannie Mae with Peter Lynch. Miller’s negative perception was tied up in the fact that Fannie Mae was losing vast amounts of money and had a razor thin capital cushion. However when challenged by Lynch to look at it a different way – Miller could see the reality of the opportunity. (As an aside, Lynch didn’t hand the answer to Miller – he questioned his perception and had him discover it for himself).
Assessing reality versus perception has played out again and again. Miller’s ability to see the reality behind Amazon in its early days was another significant execution of this practice. Miller was questioned, even criticized, for his conviction in Amazon. Murkiness is a friend of irrational emotions and the long-term perspective is often hard for humans to keep, especially in emotionally charged periods. These emotions can be lasting too. For more than a decade after the 08-09 financial crisis, investors perceived risk higher than the actual risk, costing them returns as they favored defensive and low yielding income over equities. And what about Bitcoin. While criticized by so many people, adoption continues on. (we’ve shared our perspective on bitcoin on the blog: here, here and here)
More than a quarter of a century interviewing some of the greatest minds of investing revealed to Green more than just strategies to build wealth. What he found is that many investors have a deeper commitment to a higher cause. Green cited comments by Munger “that investing is a vocation – a low vocation, but not that low because you are a custodian of people’s life savings…it’s a privileged and sacred trust.” Green admits that he curated the greats he included in the book from those he admires. And it’s not hard to see why. The stories Green tells echo the common thread of exemplary people who have an unwavering commitment to their role as fiduciary for their clients, devote the entirety of their intellect to mastering their craft, and give back to individuals and society – not only money, but also in teaching the principles they’ve learned to, in a way, compound integrity over time.
We also wanted to share a few of the books and other readings that were mentioned in the conversation.
- Richer, Happier, Wiser: How the World’s Greatest Investors Win in Markets and Life by William Green
- On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings by William James
- The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfections by Michael A. Singer
- What Explains Xi’s Pivot to the State? by Kevin Rudd in the Wall Street Journal
- Anthony Pompliano – The Pomp Stack weekly newsletter
- Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Jim Stockdale
Click here to watch the video of A Meeting of Great Minds: A Discussion with Bill Miller and William Green.
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