Warren Buffett (Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway) has been writing a letter to shareholders (available to the public) for many years. He influenced Bill and Melinda Gates to do the same and this year the Gates’ wrote their 10th annual letter.
What would you write in your letter to your company’s stakeholders such as family members, employees and customers or clients? Would you extol your company’s success in the past year? Highlight how well you helped your clients? Include a few testimonials to that effect? Reinforce your company’s mission and vision? Ask for more business in the coming year?
What impresses me the most about the recent Gates’ and Buffett annual letters is one quality that shines through: optimism. And they each write in the first person. These letters are their thoughts shared directly to their readers. No passive or distant voice.
While they all acknowledge that there are many situations in the world today that cause anguish and fear, overall we should—must—be optimistic about ours, and others’, ability and desire to improve the human condition.
Buffett Has No Magic Plan
I love this sentence from Buffet’s 29-page 2017 letter: “Charlie and I have no magic plan to add earnings except to dream big and to be prepared mentally and financially to act fast when opportunities present themselves.” (Charlie is Charles Munger, Vice President of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffet’s partner.)
Do you try to convince prospects and buyers that you do have a magic plan, that buying from you will remove all obstacles they face? Do you act fast and make the investment when opportunities present themselves, or do you wait until you have the time to take new actions? Do you present yourself to clients and prospects as a person who thinks big and is prepared mentally to singularly focus on the client’s needs, without straying into magical thinking?
Gates’ Answer Tough Questions
The Gates’ used their 2018 letter to respond to the 10 toughest questions they’re asked regarding the work of the Gates Foundation. The questions begin with challenges such as:
- “Why don’t you…?”
- “What do you have to show for…?”
- “How is X (high-visiblity challenger) affecting your work?”
- “Why do you…?”
- “What’s in it (your work) for you?”
How would you answer these questions for your company? You have clients and customers who ask “why don’t you do this?” or “why do you do that?” People assume you’re in a nasty competitive challenge with others in your industry or niche. They lean towards believing that you’re ultimately self-centered, not client centered.
Do you get defensive or do you engage with the questioner, and find out more about what’s behind the question? Do you share various examples of success and at the same time talk about lessons learned that you’re incorporating into your future work?