Mr. Graham contributed this post to the symposium featuring L. Cunningham’s third edition of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America (2013).
In September 1974, I joined the board of The Washington Post Company. Two other directors were elected at roughly the same time: George J. Gillespie III, a partner at Cravath, Swaine and Moore; and Warren E. Buffett, ceo of Berkshire Hathaway. Adding Warren to the board was one of the best decisions (in a life full of great ones) for Katharine Graham, the ceo of The Washington Post Company, and my mother. (George’s contributions are a story for another day).
I’m pretty certain that Kay was, at the time, the only woman ceo in the Fortune 1,000. Her autobiography, Personal History, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1998 and was a number one bestseller. Her book emphasized how utterly uncertain she was at all times, how unsure of her own judgment, how modest. If conceit normally enters the bloodstream when one takes on the title ceo, Kay was an exception.
There were two people she worked with who gave my mother the belief that she could do the job: Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of the Post, and Warren Buffett (later Meg Greenfield, the Post’s editorial page editor, would be added to the group).
Kay Graham, who had never heard of Mr. Buffett before he bought stock in her company, quickly figured out after meeting Buffett and Charlie Munger, Berkshire vice chairman, that they were the two smartest business people she’d ever met. Many advisers told her not to put Warren on the board; she ignored their advice and in effect made him her lead director.
Warren was an active, smart director from the first meeting. He had more time then than now; he advised her on basic corporate matters; on management choices; and on acquisitions (the story of his input on acquisitions for The Washington Post Company is told in wonderful detail in Personal History).
The story I want to tell in this blog post has to do with Mr. Buffett’s first two interventions in our company’s business life. Warren extensively advised Kay Graham (in writing, in both cases) to change major corporate policies. Neither involved reversing policies she herself had been involved in. Read More