Not a step I wish to encourage

In the red corner ... in the blue corner ... Also, 7 other things worth your time.

We’ve been talking a bit about retirement over the last few days, and we have an Understandably Live coming up this afternoon (1 pm ET today, watch here on YouTube or here on LinkedIn) that bounces right up against the subject.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll be talking with a 35-year-old ex-Amazon employee who quit earlier this year instead of going back to the office—and who realized he’d set himself up for very early retirement, decades before an earlier generation would have thought possible.

This is going to be a different kind of Understandably Live than I’ve done in the past—more of a “behind the scenes with Bill as he does what he does” sort of thing. Basically, I’d decided to do this interview for a possible article, and then thought:

Heck, why don’t I invite anyone who’s interested to sit in?

You’ll get to see how the sausage is made.

Leading up to today’s live interview, I thought I’d start out today with the opposite: a highly successful person who will quite clearly never retire.

This would be Warren Buffett, age 91, and now in his 57th year as the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Some of you might know that I did a project where I dumped the full text of all of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters, running to 500,000 words, into a single document to make it all easier to search.

When I searched for the words “retire” and “retirement,” I came across the many instances in which he urges the people running Berkshire’s acquired companies never to retire, but to send him confidential letters identifying who they think should take over their businesses if anything should happen to them.

“These letters will be seen by no one but me unless I'm no longer CEO, in which case my successor will need the information,” he wrote in the 2010 shareholder letter.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until earlier this year that Buffett confirmed who he and the Berkshire board think they would want to take over if something should happen to him: Berkshire vice chairman, Greg Abel.

A few other examples:

  • In one letter—gosh, 35 years ago now—Buffett went on at length about Rose Blumkin, then 94, who was still working "seven days a week" at Nebraska Furniture Mart, a Berkshire acquisition. His takeaway: "I've persuaded the Board to scrap our mandatory retirement-at-100 policy."

  • Despite his admonishments, leaders of Berkshire's subordinate companies do retire, and he wishes them well. Most were considerably younger than Buffett is now. For example, there’s Ken Chace, who ran the textile business Buffett originally acquired and who retired as a mere kid, at 75.

  • At another point, he marked the retirement plans of both his long-time personal assistant and Berkshire's CFO (back in 1992). Buffett professed to “understand and empathize with the decision...to retire when the calendar says it's time," even though he added that it's “not a step I wish to encourage. It's hard to teach a new dog old tricks.”

So there you have it: In the red corner, weighing in at 91 years old, we have Buffett, who advises never to retire, at least as long as you’re enjoying your work and continuing to provide significant value.

And in the blue corner, at 35, the guy I’ll be interviewing today, who retired, more or less, at…yep, age 35. Tune in; I think it will be fun. (Again, 1 pm ET today, watch here on YouTube or here on LinkedIn.)

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7 other things worth your time

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Thanks for reading, as always. Photo credit: Flickr user DonkeyHotey. I wrote about some of Buffett’s retirement musing before on Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.