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Buffet Finds Replacement the American Way: “Something piqued my interest”

by Brandi Moore on November 30, 2010

Warren Buffet rocked the world when he announced his replacement (WSJ Article)would be a very unknown hedge fund guy from Connecticut.  Very unknown to the point that no newspaper has a photo of him.  This move is seen as a wow on many fronts but the best explanation for the whole thing?

Buffet and his right hand man Charles Munger took the American road: the looked for the person who wanted the job the most.

They knew Todd Combs was their man because he responded to the obscure help wanted ad posted a few months back.  Undaunted by no response from Buffett, Combs did what any ambitious American would do: he sent a second letter asking for a lunch meeting with Mr. Munger. Mr. Munger agreed after “something” about that letter piqued his interest.  Something has yet to be defined but I would lay my money down on one simple thing: a raw in your face American approach to aggressively going after a job.  Standing up and saying “I WANT THIS” and “I AM YOUR GUY” worked for Mr. Munger.  He was wowed.

When Buffet talks about Mr Combs he speaks the same flavors:

  • Mr. Munger and I arrived at this decision based on using our “gut check” approach to investing.
  • “Mr. Combs is a 100% fit to our culture”

So much for path and pedigree.  So much for resume.  This is what you get for showing your stuff in an aggressive way and making sure someone notices.

This is really what it means to be an American trying to get a job.  In the end, we often don’t make decisions based on resume choosing instead to hedge a bet on someone we detect to be hard working and bend over backwards to make our venture successful.  This selection process is of course funneled by resume – just as Mr. Combs was a candidate based on his experience – but for most American managers something more is required.  A great example of this is watching the Devil Wears Prada specifically the scene where Anne Hathaway is about to NOT get the job and as she is walking out the door she turns it on.  Loud.  She turns on the big message that she is the ONE to hire because she will work hard.  She is the most unlikely candidate for the job but she gets picked anyway.

The take away from Buffet is simple: Americans hire based on gut check and belief in the person to do the job.  This strategy is difficult if not impossible to implement across cultures because the signals are different as well as the beliefs.  Specific to the BRIC cultures:

  • sincerity is shown by allegiance to managers every belief, not but offering individual ideas
  • questioning objectives is seen as inappropriate, rather than questioning being seen as a way to show talents
  • trying to stand out from the group is not as acceptable, making it difficult to read through many resumes and see that “shining skill set” that most Americans easily put forward on resume.

Managers hiring on BRIC based talent need to recognize that their inherent practices will not have the same results. By seeking out those that stand up and out, they will ignore the best candidates whose culture dictates a very different message on how to get (and keep) that job.  Managers should look instead at pulling out the critical skills they need from a resume, assuming that these are buried inside “group” activities.  Keep in mind when the hope for someone who boldly proclaims they can do the job is not met, this might be a good thing because this behavior will not work well when this individual tries to manage BRIC groups.  You need to select someone that works well with “them” instead of with you.

See Managing Sincerity (Chapter from The Little BRIC Book) for more details on how to think about sincerity across cultures.

Image: xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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