Business writing lessons from Warren Buffett

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report has an insurmountable advantage—Warren Buffett.

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report has an insurmountable advantage—Warren Buffett

This season’s annual reporting may be flotsam and jetsam from a shipwrecked year, but I enjoyed reading one chairman’s letter: that of the world’s richest man, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett.

Writing one that shareholders would actually read is less common. Writing one that’s a good read and creates good will, especially when news is B-A-D, is as rare as snakes in New Zealand. My observations about what works:

1. Explains important points in detail. Today’s typical 500- to 600-word chairman’s letters are so broad as to be meaningless. Buffett’s letter runs 12,000 words (not including charts) and is a quarter of BH’s 100-page annual report (or ‘recital’ as Buffett calls it). That’s 15 to 30 times longer than most blue-chip chair letters. Rule makers may say that’s bad, but Buffett makes it work.

2. Less legal mumbo jumbo. In another company’s report, a 1,000-word chairman’s letter is footnoted with 1,289 words of “Important Notes.” Without a lawyer handy, I paraphrased those Notes as best as I could:

Is this really necessary? Does it need to be front inside cover?

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