Today’s guest post is by WALEKPeppercommer Dmitriy Ioselevich.
Warren Buffett is known for being many things—a legendary investor, a shrewd businessman, a noble philanthropist and one of the most influential people in the world. But, like anyone, he isn’t immune to criticism.
Buffett was in some hot water recently for not publicly opposing a controversial plan by Coca-Cola to reward its executives with a lucrative compensation plan. The plan was approved last week by Coke’s voting shareholders, with Buffett declining to vote against it.
It was exactly the kind of thing that Buffett, who is one of Coke’s largest shareholders, is known for opposing. He once called stock options “free lottery tickets” and is an outspoken critic of excessive executive compensation and how it represents everything that the general public hates about Wall Street.
But Buffett redeemed himself at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, saying that he did in fact oppose the Coke plan, but preferred to raise his concerns to CEO Muhtar Kent in private. He didn’t want to “go to war” with a close business partner, pointing out that boards are “part-business and part-social organization.”
It’s telling that Buffett thinks it would be more productive to work directly with Coke’s executives, rather than staging a very public and costly activist campaign—the method du jour of many of his similarly wealthy contemporaries. (Hello, Bill Ackman.) At a time when many professional financiers are willing to use whatever resources necessary to get what they want (even Twitter), Buffett is using the most effective problem-solving technique ever—talking.
His actions have great potential ramifications for the financial industry, where ‘talking’ is sometimes akin to cowardice or weakness, but also serve as a powerful reminder for the rest of us.
Conflicts are an inevitable part of any industry, especially the communications industry. But solving the short-term problem—in this case, Coke’s executives getting a bit greedy—rarely solves the long-term problem. It merely kicks the proverbial can down the road until it’s someone else’s problem. (General managers of professional sports teams are notorious for doing this. I’m already excited to see the Washington Redskins self-combust on live TV tomorrow night at the 2014 NFL Draft).
It’s human nature to be short-sighted, but in the communications world that sort of mentality can be fatal. Clients may demand solutions now, but solutions that are hastily conceived and executed often lead to even more problems. Likewise, Buffett wasn’t as interested in what Coke was doing in 2014 as he was in what they will be doing 10 or 20 years in the future.
Buffett may be the ‘Oracle of Omaha,’ but something tells me that he would’ve done just fine in PR.