Buffett's communications advice: keep it simple

A few minutes before 9 am on Friday morning, I was maneuvering my way through the narrow streets and security barriers of the Financial District on my way to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

A few minutes before 9 am on Friday morning, I was maneuvering my way through the narrow streets and security barriers of the Financial District on my way to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange where Business Wire CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz and Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Business Wire parent company Berkshire Hathaway, rang the opening bell in celebration of Business Wire's 50th anniversary. The endless amount of financial information streaming across every inch of the floor of the NYSE was, to say the least, incredible.

The bell ringing was followed up by a luncheon where Baron Tamraz recounted how she started at the company in 1979 at a time when associates used Dictaphones to transcribe investor information. In 1997 came the advent of the smart news release with multimedia capabilities, and today Business Wire issues 200,000 releases a year.

Baron Tamraz and Buffett sat down for a Q&A touching on subjects from the recession to corporate reputation.

  • Buffett's take on the economy: “Out of the hospital, but not going to the Olympics just yet.”
  • On taxing the wealthiest: Buffett says the super-wealthy have experienced a five-to-one return on their investment, while the amount they are taxed has actually decreased by 8%. “We're not going to solve the deficit with any one initiative, but we should get the rich up to the appropriate tax level, and we must make our share of sacrifices,” he said.
  • On corporate reputation: Buffett stressed the need to renew faith in corporate leadership, saying it is very important for a business to establish a solid corporate reputation and strong stock value to weather the tough times when “an idiot” takes over the company because “sooner or later one will.”
  • On President Obama: “He'd make a good CEO. He's a very intelligent fellow, picks up things quickly, and would run a business well.”
  • On investor communications: Whether an investor owns one share or thousands, Buffett believes in simplicity and the same level of candor. He also said that the most effective form of communication is the written word. He frames his Berkshire Hathaway annual report as if writing a letter to his sisters Doris and Bertie, who are investors in the company.

I started out the morning immersed in the digital deluge of information needed to keep the world's financial markets humming and ended with the third-richest man in the world,  and arguably its greatest business mind, writing the words “Dear Doris and Bertie.” They represent the polar opposite in the communications spectrum, but both are equally vital to successful business.

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