Walter Schloss -- What a Guy
Today brings the news that superinvestor and Buffett friend Walter Schloss is no longer with us.
I admired Walter for many reasons: his devotion to his family, his investing prowess, and his zest for life. His first wife was ill with serious depression for decades and throughout, he cared for her tirelessly. Meanwhile, he worked in a tiny closet-sized office at Tweedy Brown, and used essentially nothing but pencils, paper, and Value Line to produce some of the best investing results in history. Later his son Edwin joined him in the business, but they never deviated from the style that made him a success, which his friends referred to as mainly buying "buggy-whip manufacturers," moribund companies that were trading for less than their carcasses would be worth.
As for the zest, there is a photo in The Snowball of Walter dancing at his 90th birthday party. He was really cutting the rug, not just doing a pose for the camera, and you can tell how much fun he was having and what a lively person he was from that picture. That night he told me how much he enjoyed still being able to play tennis at his age. He had recently remarried and was fully involved in life.
The first time I ever spoke to Walter was several years earlier, in a phone interview. Warren had mentioned that Walter's political views were a "little more right wing" than Buffett's own. When we got on the phone, Walter immediately wanted let me know he just could not understand how Warren could believe the things he did about taxes. While Warren would always take his calls, Walter had found that if the subject turned to politics they tended to end quickly. So Walter figured that I was a possible vehicle to get his views through to Warren, and he made that very clear. My first interview transcript with Walter ended up consisting about 75% of a message to Warren about his wrong-headedness on taxes. I must say that Warren took it well.
That was my introduction to the dynamic among the insiders in the Buffett Group. Walter was one of the earlier interviews, and as it turned out, only a prelude to a series of people who wanted to use part of their interviews to send the same message. But Walter was more outspoken than most. It seems appropriate that the news of his death would come on President's Day.
The most notable thing I remember about Walter, though, was not his politics; it was his generosity. It was he who helped me really understand what life was like working at Graham-Newman. He also contributed greatly to the portrait of Warren as a young investor. Walter gave me an abundance of information about Ben Graham, and later donated his papers to Columbia University. These are only examples, and I'm sure that many other people have stories of how open-hearted this man was. He will be very much missed.
Here's a good Bloomberg story on his passing.