CNBC’s Becky Quick sat down with Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chair Charlie Munger two weeks ago for a wide-ranging interview about his life and career. He died yesterday at the age of 99. Following are excerpts from the interview and links to video on CNBC.com.
Charlie Munger In Final CNBC Interview: You’ve Got To Learn How To Recognize Rare Opportunities When They Come
Charlie Munger: When Warren and I were starting 'I never thought we would ever get to $100 million'
Munger On His Life
BECKY QUICK: Is there anything left on your bucket list? Anything you'd like to do?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, that's an interesting question. I am so old and weak compared to what I was when I was 96 that I no longer want to catch a 200-pound tuna. It's just too god damn much work to get it in. It takes too much physical strength. So I would have paid any amount to catch a 200-pound tuna when I was younger, I never caught one. And now if given the opportunity, I would just decline going. I won’t even go out after them. There are things you give up with time.
BECKY QUICK: You're pretty active. You've got a busy social schedule. You're on Zoom. You have breakfasts and lunch.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well I like it that way.
BECKY QUICK: Yeah.
CHARLIE MUNGER: That's my idea of a proper old age for me. And I didn't plan it, it just happened. When it happened, I welcomed it. I am very good at recognizing unfair advantages. And I got unfair advantages in old age, the way I got unfair advantages in not old age and when they came, I just grabbed them. Boom, boom, boom.
Munger On Advice He Gave Warren Buffett
BECKY QUICK: Charlie, Warren Buffett told me that a long, long time ago you told him he should live his life. He should write his obituary the way he wants it written and then live his life accordingly.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Yeah, sure.
BECKY QUICK: I assume you've done the same thing for yourself.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, you know, I've written my obituary the way I've lived my life and if you want to pay attention to it that’s alright with me. And if they want to ignore it, that's okay with me too. I'll be dead what difference will it make. And so, but I think it's a good – it's not a bad idea. Warren and I both lived in the same house for decade after decade after decade. All our friends get rich and build better – bigger and better houses. And naturally we can – we both considered bigger and better houses. I had a huge number of children, so it was justifiable even. And I still decided not to live a life where I look like the Duke of Worcester or something. And I was gonna avoid it. I did it on purpose.
BECKY QUICK: Why?
CHARLIE MUNGER: I didn’t think it would be good for the children.
BECKY QUICK: That it would spoil them?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Yeah. It’s – you grow up in a rich family, your duty is to use the wealth and live grandly. That is what everyone is doing with the money. You will learn from people who are doing it.
BECKY QUICK: Is the plan for your life, the obituary you would write in your 30s, the same you would write today?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Sure. I basically believe in the soldier on system. Lots of hardship will come and you gotta handle it well by soldiering through. And lots of, a few rare opportunities will come. You got to learn how to recognize them when they come and not that make too minor of a trip to the pie counter when the opportunity is available. And those are the simple lessons.
Munger On How Things Started At Berkshire Hathaway
CHARLIE MUNGER: I did not really think that we'd ever have one that would in the so many hundreds of billions at Berkshire, I did not anticipate when Warren and I were starting with our little, piddly start that we'd ever get to $100 million, much less several hundred billion. It was an amazing occurrence.
BECKY QUICK: What happened that you didn't anticipate? What led to that success that you had?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, we got a little less crazy than most people and a little less stupid than most people. And that really helped us. Then in addition, we were given this much longer time to run than most people, because something kept us alive into our 90s. And that gave us a long track from our little, piddling start all the way to the 90s. Those are the two things that really happened. And, of course, we wised up over time. We got into better and better companies. We understood more and more of the bad things that could happen. You know how easy they could creep in. And we avoided them even more – like when we were old than we did when we were young. And it all worked.
BECKY QUICK: I think back in 2015, for the 50th anniversary of Berkshire, you wrote in the shareholders letter that among many other things you had a $60 billion pile of cash at that point. You thought that pile of cash would decline over time, because you'd be able to buy more and more things. Now you've got almost $160 billion in cash. Is there an opportunity for a really big purchase with that? And do you think you'll see one?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, of course there's an opportunity for a purchase a lot bigger than people can make who don't have $160 billion. We have $160 billion in cash, plus a great credit rating we deserve. And who in the hell has that? Not very many. Yes, but what it's gonna be, I can't tell you. It can't be anything too small. Because it doesn't matter how good it is, we're of a size now where too small just doesn't move the needle very much. So we have – we need something big to come along, and use up all our cash, and some borrowing. But who's more likely to find something than a guy who has $160 billion in cash, plus a long history of buying bargains? I don't think it's hopeless. It may have to be done by some different people. You know that next time, we may not be able just to squeeze a little more lemon juice out of the old lemons. We may be able to – they may have to squeeze some new lemons, meaning new people may have to make the decisions. But who can make them better than somebody that has watched the early process all through all those years, and seeing how well it works, and who starts with a little legacy of $160 billion in cash?
BECKY QUICK: So you're talking about Greg Abel, Ajit Jain.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Yes, any of—
BECKY QUICK: Ted and Todd.
CHARLIE MUNGER: – or somebody not yet identified.