Charlie Munger, the vice-chair of Berkshire Hathaway, died at the age of 99 on Tuesday morning at a California hospital, the US investment conglomerate announced.
Warren Buffett, Berkshire’s chief executive, said in a short statement that the company “could not have been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom and participation”
Charlie Munger, widely recognized as the highly knowledgeable partner of Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., faced numerous significant challenges throughout his life, many of which are not widely known.
His life narrative is one of resilience and persistence in the face of severe obstacles and losses. Despite these hardships, he went on to become one of the most successful investors of his era, generously sharing the wisdom he gained.
Munger is often acknowledged for his legal career before teaming up with Buffett, but his journey was far from conventional. His early life took a dramatic turn when he left college in 1943 to join the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Despite lacking a college degree, Munger's determination led him to become an officer and train as a meteorologist, resulting in his transfer to Alaska.
His path involved taking graduate courses without an undergraduate degree, eventually leading to acceptance at Harvard Law School. He began his career at the law firm of Wright & Garrett, earning a salary of $3,300 per year.
In 1953, at the age of 29, Munger's life took a significant turn. His eight-year marriage ended in divorce, a considerable social stigma at the time, marking the first of many challenges Munger would face. The divorce left him in dire financial straits, with his wife receiving the majority of their assets, including their home. Munger's friends remember his move to notably modest living conditions following the separation.
Determined to regain financial stability, Munger immersed himself in work, dedicating long hours to recover from the financial loss resulting from the divorce. However, life had more trials in store for him.
A year after his divorce, Munger faced a devastating blow when his 8-year-old son Teddy was diagnosed with leukemia. In an era without medical insurance and effective treatments for the disease, Munger shouldered the medical expenses while grappling with the emotional turmoil of his son’s illness. He juggled his responsibilities as a father to his other children and his law practice, even as he watched Teddy’s health decline.
Munger’s friend Rick Guerin recalls the heart-wrenching moments Munger spent at the hospital with Teddy and his solitary walks through Pasadena, California, overwhelmed with grief. Teddy’s death at age 9 left Munger shattered.
At 31, Munger was dealing with the aftermath of a divorce, financial instability, and the profound grief of losing his son. Yet, he refused to succumb to despair or seek escape in vices, a common refuge for many during such times. He chose to forge ahead.
“Envy, resentment, revenge, and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought," he later said. "Self-pity gets close to paranoia. ... Every mischance in life is an opportunity to behave well and learn. It’s not to be immersed in self-pity but to utilize the blow constructively.”
These words carried even more weight given Munger’s personal experiences, including the loss of his son.
Munger's challenges continued. At 52, he developed cataracts, and a failed surgery left him blind in one eye. Despite the pain and the loss of his vision, his indomitable spirit prevailed. He learned braille, demonstrating his determination to adapt and learn, regardless of the circumstances.
Munger’s journey, marked by personal tragedies and professional setbacks, challenges the common narrative of a smooth, unbroken path to success. It reveals the often-hidden struggles behind achieving prosperity and happiness. His ability to endure and transform adversities into learning experiences is a powerful reminder of human resilience.
In addressing challenges in investing and life, Munger once reflected the sentiment of Rudyard Kipling’s famous words — to treat triumph and disaster just the same. His approach to accepting failure as a normal part of life and learning from it, rather than dwelling on it, exemplifies his pragmatic and resilient mindset.
Munger’s life, beyond his investment acumen, stands as a profound lesson in overcoming adversity. His journey is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to persevere, learn, and evolve, transforming even the most challenging experiences into opportunities for personal growth and wisdom.
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