Walt Laws-MacDonald | Show Me The Money!
Losses that really matter
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 04:04
Warren Buffett — who, I in an inexcusable, likely hunger-related error referred to as “Warren Buffet” in a previous column — announced that he had been diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer last week. Buffett made the announcement in his favorite form of communication: a letter to his shareholders. In his usual, understated tone, Buffett wrote that his doctors told him his condition “is not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way.”
Buffett prides himself on his transparency and relationship with Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders. The chairman and chief executive made it clear that he should be around for a long time, saying, “I feel great — as if I were in normal excellent health.” But at 81 years old, Buffett understands that he will not be around to run his beloved company forever, and he has already instated a succession plan.
Whenever a powerful figure like Buffett steps down, the business community’s collective heartbeat flutters — what will the future of Berkshire Hathaway hold without Warren Buffett’s brilliant mind behind the reins?
The business world has already lost two tremendously important leaders in the past year. Steve Jobs, co-founder and longtime CEO of Apple, passed away last October due to complications from pancreatic cancer. Steve Appleton, CEO and former president of chip maker Micron Technology, died while piloting a stunt plane near the Boise, Idaho, company headquarters.
Both Apple and Micron had endured stints without their chiefs, but they eventually brought them back on. Jobs was fired by Apple’s board in 1984 and would not return to the company until 1996. Micron’s board forced Appleton to abruptly resign in 1996, only to have him return within the same month.
The death of an important figure — business, political, pop culture or otherwise — is always met with an initial phase of shock. Even when a death is anticipated, a knee-jerk reaction is usually our first response. Steve Jobs’ health had clearly been on the decline, but Wall Street and the Apple masses could never have expected him to pass so suddenly.
Appleton’s death was even more unexpected. The 51-year-old had always lived life on the edge, racing motorcycles, cars and off-road vehicles in his spare time. Micron froze trading of the company’s shares as news of the crash trickled out, and quickly released an official statement announcing his death and sending condolences to his family.
When Jobs announced he would resign from his position as CEO of Apple in August of 2011, shares tumbled 5 percent. News of Appleton’s death erased Micron’s early gains and sent the stock down several points.
Quantifying a CEO’s legacy by looking at his or her company’s stock does little justice to his or her character — but let’s take a peek anyway.
Apple has vaulted forward since Jobs’ death, nearly doubling since his resignation. Micron, however, has fallen nearly 20 percent since Appleton’s death. While Apple has benefited from Jobs’ lasting vision, Micron has suffered from wider chip manufacturing trends and has not surpassed its price from before Appleton’s death.
Though death is never an easy thing to comprehend, both men spoke of it with grace and understanding. Appleton told The Wall Street Journal five years before his death, “It is kind of a cliche, but I’d rather die living than die dying.” In his 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford, Jobs told the audience “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
I believe — and really, sincerely hope — that Buffett will be around for years to come. He has already left a lasting mark on investment and philanthropy, just as Appleton did with the memory chip industry and Jobs did with personal computing.
So, Mr. Buffett, I wish you well for what will come and thank you for what you have done. Stick around.
Walt Laws-MacDonald is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. He can be reached at Walt.Laws_MacDonald@tufts.edu.