Warren Buffett (still) doesn’t want to be an activist investor
Activist investors have been dominating headlines all year, targeting companies like GE, DuPont, and Mondelez. So what’s the appetite of legendary investor Warren Buffett to get in on some activist action?
“Zero,” said the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A), speaking Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington, D.C.
Chatting with Carol Loomis, Fortune’s retired senior editor-at-large, Buffett said that activism is a profitable and “salable form,” which happens to be attracting big money right now. But it’s spurred a wave of activism that may have gone about as far as it can go. “They stretch for targets, and you’re seeing that now,” he said.
A famous buy-and-hold investor, Buffett compared activism—where investors push companies to make major changes to increase shareholder returns—to an old saying: “If you want to guarantee yourself a life of misery, marry someone with the expectations of changing them.”
Still, there’s a reason these agitators exist. “If every company were well managed, there would be no reason for activists,” said Buffett. “The truth is, at some companies, the managers forget who they’re working for.”
The Berkshire Hathaway boss had some words of wisdom for companies that are looking to stay off activists’ radar. “The best way to keep activists away is to perform reasonably well in your business and to communicate with your shareholders,” he said. “They should be treated as partners.”
And what about Silicon Valley and the startup world—does Buffett want a piece of a unicorn? “I don’t bring anything to that game at all,” he said, noting that the valuations of many tech startups are “nose-bleed” by Berkshire’s standards. While technology is certainly one of the hottest sectors going, Buffett says he’ll leave it to the VCs: “It’s just a game that doesn’t appeal to me.”