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Homepage of Berkshire Hathaway, 17th biggest company in the world (berkshirehathaway.com)
163 points by hop on Oct 31, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 116 comments



I'd assume that Buffet's thought process - correct in my opinion - is that having a fancy website won't get him anything, and will only cost him money to create and maintain.

Unlike most companies, Warren Buffet doesn't care if you buy his stock. The last close of BRK.A is at $99,000 and has an average volume of about 800 - meaning that if you hold that stock, you're almost certainly an institutional investor who's in it for the long run, and who know perfectly well what the company is like. For similar reasons, he doesn't need to project any images of modernity or customer-friendliness, if for no other reason than BRK has no real customers.

Most companies make fancy web pages to appeal to customers and inform them, to project a positive image for investors, or to provide a service. All Berkshire's web page is there for is to distribute some documents, most of which are updated annually or so. Hence no need for something fancy.

While you're there, have a read of the Owner's Manual and one of the annual reports, which are written as if you're friends with Warren Buffet and he's having a casual conversation with you about how business is going. He tells stories, he talks about individuals who have done well this year - but by the end you have a very good idea about how the company is doing, and you've probably learned something about finance (I don't have any shares in the company and I always read them). Also funny is the descriptions of the BRK annual meetings - known as _Woodstock for Capitalists_ - and the associated sales events from all the Berkshire companies.


They discussed his website on a recent BBC documentary (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nn7vs) at 00:32:37 (transcribed below). The whole documentary is certainly worth watching.

  Davis:
  "Berkshire Hathaway is a massive company which feels like a family firm.
  All the usual corporate vanities are absent and not a cent is wasted. Take a
  look at the Berkshire Hathaway website here. To call it low key would be to put it
  kindly, it looks though it's from about 1994, no-frills. All the financial data
  is here but they haven't even got around to even uploading a photo. And
  that's all very much Warren Buffets style - why waste money on a designer.
  Buffet insists his website does the job."

  Buffet:
  "I think it's what we are, I mean, it's factual."

  Davis:
  "You could put a little picture of something on there perhaps, or."

  Buffet:
  "I want people to get facts about Berkshire and, you know, I don't
  really think it makes any difference what I look like."

  ---

  Davis:
  "Buffets idiosyncratic style is not just charming, it's a financial asset,
  it saves time and money..."


In addition, Buffet likes consumer monopolies -- brands people recognize with a product or service. GEICO and Dairy Queen, Orange Julius, The Pampered Chef -- all recognizable brands and ones people don't associate with BH. This is a good thing. To make Berkshire Hathaway the center of attention dilutes a consumer monopoly.

When holding companies take it on as a strategy, it's a flash in the pan. Yum! Brands' (KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's) Kentucky Derby sponsorship is a great example.

I'm not going to Pizza Hut to be Yum!'s patron. I'm going there for pizza and I don't like Domino's.

Likewise, I'm not going to Dairy Queen because I like Berkshire Hathaway.

Berkshire Hathaway has no business building a consumer brand. And yet Berkshire's consumer brand is Warren Buffet.


Why did this get down-voted? It makes a good point, & one that is well known among followers of Buffet's trading philosophy; namely the bit about Berkshire investing in consumer monopolies or well-known brands. Buffet took this philosophy from Graham, the author of the Intelligent Investor.


Yes. Though he heavily modified Graham's methods.


Sure right about his thought process and his disinterest of allocating capital to a snazzy website. BRK.B is a little more accessible at 1/30th the price of A shares, $3283 now. In his book Snowball, he talks about the waste of money to do share splits.


"linking to this website without written permission is prohibited." - http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/disclaimer.html


Reading this text without written permission is prohibited.

(What I mean to say is that the word "prohibited" has no meaning. The use of the passive voice does not make something a legal requirement.)


I don't think that's an example of passive voice.



What are these people thinking?

Some of them put language there like "please read these terms and conditions carefully before using this web site...".

How detached from reality can you become? If they find themselves in a lawsuit and want to argue that the other party should have read the T&C. Wouldn't any court throw out that argument immediately because there is now way to expect a normal person to read some terms and conditions linked in a footer of a webpage before reading/using it?


It's a way to cover their asses. "We put it in the Terms & Conditions! It was just that stupid judge that wouldn't let us exercise them!"


Copyright 2003. It stands the test of time. :)

And their design does too...

http://web.archive.org/web/19970530212007/http://www.berkshi...


Actually one of my pet peeves is that websites continually update their copyright notices. I've always felt that's not how copyright should work. If you update a website, the copyright should take effect when the content, say an article, was first published. Just because the page gets served up in 2009 doesn't mean you get to slap a copyright 2009 on there if the article is from 2003.

Alas, I bet the lawyerly interpretation is that each downloaded HTML file is it's own licensed copy and perhaps copyright comes into being at the point of the successful HTTP request.


Hmmm... at least the OP could say they didn't know about the policy. Your post, however...


If the rest of the web was like this, my web browser wouldn't need 600M of RAM or weekly security updates.


And you would never use it for anything besides reading documents.


Uh huh, and that's bad how?


It's not bad. But I wouldn't want to give up the applications that have made my life far more efficient due to their being hosted and universally available in a web-browser. Obviously Gmail is the big one here.


Or buying things online, or posting to Twitter, etc. AJAX is nice for building applications, but very few applications need total interactivity. I can't think of any AJAX-y web application I actually use, other than ones I've written.

All of my web browsing is fine with the latency of a page load.


What about voting on HN? Would be pretty annoying to reload the page after every vote no?


Just middle-click to open the "your vote was counted" in a new tab.

But anyway, having Javascript in your browser is not what makes it bloated; Emacs had an embeddable programming language many years before anyone even thought to embed Javascript in a web browser. It is quirks mode + the DOM + bad programming. (Bad programming == using raw C++. A few years ago, Firefox used a lot of memory because of heap fragmenentation. Garbage collection or double-indirection pointers would easily have solved that problem.)


"Thanks to the joint efforts of OpenOffice, Mozilla, and a few others, Emacs officially entered the category of lightweight utilities." -- http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=8224&cid=709073


Hilarious.

C programs are bloated when you consider the C library and UNIX environment they require.


OK fair enough. But bad programming by browser makers has nothing to do with the markup used for web-pages, which is what you were praising with BH's homepage. Quirks mode also has nothing to do with markup and everything to do with browser makers' failure to implement w3c css standards. And wasn't the DOM developed to accommodate demands for client side scripting such as javascript.

So two of the things you cite as contributing to bloat have nothing to do with page design, and without the third (the DOM) we'd give up a lot of client-side scripting functionality, which is exactly the functionality I am arguing isn't worth giving up.


meh? click on up/down vote button -> GET/POST -> displays a comments page with recounted votes at the location of your comment

you still need to reload to see other people's votes even with today's fancy ajax voting!


"Fancy" is not the word to describe HN's AJAX voting. "Minimally functional" is closer.


If other comments had been posted, you would lose your place. Also, the screen flash would interrupt reading.

Not to mention, some people don't have superfast broadband.


You say that like you think it's a bad thing.


Yeah, there was no eBay, no Amazon, no Excite, no Hotmail, no Viaweb etc. before Web 2.0 came.


I work for one of the above - you have no idea how much functionality we wouldn't be able to have (or at least wouldn't be reasonably easy to use) without "Web 2.0".


I work in subsidiary of one of the above too. I do have some idea what kind of functionality you couldn't have, the question is how much money would your company not get if this functionality was missing ;)


I guess it depends on how you interpret "like this" in the original post. The things you cite above are nothing at all like the BH homepage.


Check out the original versions of those sites. They look exactly like the current BH page.


I wasn't suggesting they don't look similar. You'll notice I didn't say that. I think it's obvious that those sites offered a level of interactivity that the current BH page does not though, so I feel like you're being a little disingenuous here.

I guess I'm not clear on what you meant in your original post then. Did you mean that If the web consisted of the pages that were around in 1997 we wouldn't have weekly security updates and 600K memory-hog browsers? Or did you mean that if people designed web-pages to be informational and not interactive we wouldn't have those problems? I interpreted your comment as the latter, but I would take issue with both.

In the end my problem with your comment is that it's a lot like saying "If we didn't have email, we wouldn't have spam" or "If cars didn't have windows, it would be harder to break into them." It just seems like silly nostalgia. I suppose I should have articulated this more clearly from the beginning.


Well, 640K ought to be enough for anybody really.


... except bill never said that. this is a false meme that really, really needs to die.

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bill_Gates

"I've said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time."


"... except bill said that. this is a false meme that really, really needs to die."

Yes, I know it's a misquote.


He didn't say Bill. Or it might've been someone with the same name as The Bill Gates.

And 640K is enough for everyone, at least it was enough 30 years ago :)


the 640k barrier was a major pain in my butt for almost a decade. first we had expanded memory, then extended memory, both of which could only be used by some programs. then there were add-ons like qemm, which could remap physical ram into unused areas of the 384k add-on space. for a long time there, computers that had more unused rom space than others were more valuable to people like me who ran a bunch of memory-hungry apps. what a nightmare!

i should have gotten on the unix bandwagon from the beginning. at the time i just didn't know any better.


I didn't even think of the meme.

Personally, I thought of Norm. You don't know Norm, but he's the guy who sold my family our first 386 with a 40MB hard drive and said it was more than we'd ever use. He also sold me a copy of Sim Earth and said it was the best game ever made. The bastard.


Of course, if someone who would look foolish if he had made a certain statement would vehemently deny making it (or just forget it). Bill's refutation is not proof that he never made the comment.


The BBC had a documentary on Warren Buffet last week that is worth watching http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00nn7vs/The_Worlds_Gre... (website is discussed at 00:32:37)

Berkshire Hathaway run a $150BN business with a staff of just twenty, and Buffet often points out having a fancy website is not a priority as long as it is functional.

In many ways their website is analogous to the likes of Google in providing just enough to make it useful and not much more.


This is a little deceiving. Berkshire Hathaway might run on only twenty, but its holdings, both wholly and partially, total to much larger numbers of staff.

It's still a pretty efficient and lightweight operation, but it's not an exact 20-people-to-$150-billion comparison.


<meta name="Template" content="C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\html.dot">


I found:

<META NAME="GENERATOR" CONTENT="Adobe PageMill 2.0 Win">

Edit:

According to Wikipedia that dates back to 1997:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_PageMill

At the time one review of Adobe PageMill 2.0 said that it "adds more features than I have fingers and toes… PageMill with its tables, frames, graphics, and support for form interfaces, makes it easy to lay out a page"


Well, they're good friends with Gates (who's also on the Board and sometimes touted as Buffet's successor). Bill probably installed that one himself :)


> and sometimes touted as Buffet's successor

Are you on crack?

There is lots of speculation regarding succession, but nobody has been insane/stupid enough to suggest Gates as an option.


Uh, right. Now visit the page and click on "Borsheim's", which is the furniture store Berkshire owns. Compare web designs.

Berkshire Hathaway spends a lot --- probably hundreds of thousands annually --- on web design. They just don't use it for the Berkshire Hathaway corporate site.

A single Berkshire B share costs over $3000. Nobody buys them on a whim. There is zero business value spiffing up their web presence.


There is zero business value spiffing up their web presence.

Here, something a lot of start-ups can learn. True, they need good design more than Berkshire, but it feels like form completely overtook function.


In a web-application form and function blur together, especially when what you're offering isn't exactly rocket science.


I dont know about 0, for startups. If I came to a page for a new service I hadn't heard of and it looked like THAT, I'd instantly question it, hard.


Which is why BRK's "retail" businesses (like Borsheims, or See's candy, or Geico) or, hell, even the Fechheimer Brothers uniform company, all have top-shelf web presences.

I get the sense that a lot of people commenting here don't really understand how BRK works.


The page gives all the information they want to share. Adding fancy stuff or Warren's pictures do not add any value. They follow similar philosophy at Berkshire's world headquarters where they have just about 20 odd people and Warren doesn't use a computer or even a calculator. World would be so different if we all could get by with only stuff that adds value to our lives.


I actually like the simple site design, but I hate the fact that they expect you to have IE if you want to order from their online store. I've tried ordering a Berkshire Hathaway shirt as a gift multiple times, and have been denied each time because I use Firefox and Safari. I will use the phone or snail mail (or even carrier pigeon) before I install IE.


Well...you could forge your user agent string in firefox :).

here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/59

It isn't very polite, but neither is not letting you in.

(That said, I really doubt they care if you buy a shirt or not).


Have to love Warren Buffett's frugality.


I don't think it's anything to do with being frugal. Buffet said many times during the dot-com boom that he wouldn't touch a tech stock with a 10 ft. pole owing to the fact that he had no clue what any of them did. When the bubble burst he had one of his best years ever by investing in brick and paint companies, IIRC.

So, it's not that he won't spring for a post-1992 web site because he's cheap. It's because he couldn't care less about the internet. He doesn't even have a computer. In a way I'm shocked that berkshirehathaway.com even exists. I assume they bought it to keep some idiot from hocking Viagra under that name.

To me, the world's richest man completely ignoring something to which many of us here devote our lives is a great reminder of the whole other physical world out there which will always be equally, if not more, as important as tech. Microblogging, blah blah will come and go, but people will always need to build brick walls and paint them.


Agreed. Success is demonstrated in knowing exactly what you want to achieve with something and sticking to it.


there's this funny bit in The Snowball, where Buffett suggests to his wife that they let their daughter sleep in an old dresser drawer versus buying a new crib.


Snowball was great, there will ever be another Buffett.


It's not really frugality - think how many HN users would redesign the page (even just to fix the broken tags!) for free!


Just because the developer is offering his services free of charge doesn't mean it's free to the company receiving said services.

Just one meeting with Warren Buffet to approve the website redesign would be the equivalent of thousands of dollars (people pay in the hundreds of thousands for lunch with him). Additional disruptions in the already small corporate office would incur additional costs.


If you have any comments about our WEB page, you can either write us at the address shown above...

I wonder whether anybody actually does this...


I remember reading about someone who wrote letters and mailed them to companies (sorry I have no link to offer). He found a better response from the snail-mail variety and figured it the volume of written mail in a corporation was so low that it reached decision-makers more often then email.


That plaintext site is PR 6 of 10, so apparently Google likes it.


I like how the (c) is from 1978!


His website couldn't have possibly exhausted then... (?)


The content dates back to that time. Check the Chairman's Letters and Annual Reports.


I have been thinking a lot about striping away all superfluous pixels and limiting the area of function. Especially with the latest idea's of fast development patterns and feedback loops. I am developing a strong understanding of what we could consider a web foundation. Just as if we were building a structure or a machine.

Every time I find websites like this, I immediately think its simple and limited, yet efficient. But I do dislike this website. This company/website doesn't align with my idea of a new communication tool. However, the latest "web 2.0" site doesn't give me inspiration either. It is full of a bunch of pretty lights and distracting content.

Some times I wonder if the web needs a paradigm shift. Starting to think we are over engineering it when we should be focusing on specific function.


Yes yes yes.

Anything more than necessary is too much.


Their website is functional and actually has quite a bit of content on it - including many years worth of letters from Buffett to Berkshire shareholders.

I'm sure the site would be fancier if Warren Buffett actually used a computer - but as far as I know he doesn't even have one in his office.


A good friend of mine is the same way. He is a brilliant brilliant investor worth many many many times what I will likely ever make in my lifetime, yet his office consists of a desk, 1 other employee (his accountant), and a computer from the 90s that he uses to play solitaire.

I offered to get him a new one, but he declined because the one he has does everything he needs.

My first reaction was horror, but after having thought about it a while, it makes sense. The guy has been doing this since before I was ever a thought in my parents head, and he is very successful, why change?


He uses a computer to play bridge...but that's about it.


I bet he uses a general purpose computer for email, for keeping accounts, etc., just by proxy. That is, he's rich enough that he has other people do the input/output and report back to him.

Doesn't he have a cell-phone, probably a computer; use a PBX, a computer; drive a car, a computer; ride in an elevator, a computer; ...


Try following the link to "Charlie Munger's Letters to Wesco Shareholders."


Looks like it got high-jacked. If you google Wesco Financial, its the first result and its redirected too. I bet no one renewed the domain...



I think the funniest thing is that they have a Geico affiliate link on their front page


I think the funniest thing is that you called a link to GEICO from Berkshire an "affiliate link".


it's http://www.geico.com/geicobrk.htm so there is probably some tracking involved


I'm pretty sure the marketing departments from "both" companies can get each other's logs verbatim with a phone call.


They own Geico.


Also the letter from Warren Buffet says I can save money if I switch to Geico.


I didn't know this, but "GEICO is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc." As are a surprising number of others:

http://www.geico.com/about/corporate/corporate-ownership/


Seriously, Aaron? GEICO accounts for almost half of Berkshire's insurance revenue (after their Re operation).

What was it you thought BRK did?


I switched to geico after progressive said they couldn't get my rate below $100/mo and GEICO did it for about $60 a month.


hehe, it does look like an affiliate link now that you mention it.

Logically, BRK should also link to Coke, American Express, and all the companies it holds share in/owns outright. Not only as advertising, but also to give them some google juice. It would look horrifically crassly commercial, of course.


they aren't majority/whole shareholders in those, so that wouldn't be logical at all ;)

Buffet does take every opportunity to promote his holdings, though you might argue that they're superior if he invested in them in the first place.


Why would it not be logical, because he owns a part of a business and not all of it?


umm, I dunno... because Berkshire doesn't run the business then?


Using adwords, bloggers put up advertisements for companies they don't run, and affiliate advertising (which is the idea starting this thread) is similar.

I see what you mean though, that it would seem rude for BRK to make up their own ads for coke. At any rate, Buffett's approach is to not interfere in any of his businesses, so I'm sure that the two ads that are there (GEICO and Borsheims) would have been done in consultation. He could do that with coke etc, too.

I'm not saying he should do it, just that the same logic applies.

The point I'm making, tongue-in-cheek, is to echo Buffett's philosophy that when you buy a share in a company, you should think of it as buying that company, not as buying a share, so that you think of yourself as a business owner, and not a trader in shares.


caches well.


Did anyone actually view the source on this? Besides deprecated Font tags there are incorrectly nested tags and Div tags with nothing in them. He must have literally asked the neighbor's junior high school kid if he'd put it together for $15. Talk about being frugal.


Not sure what I am supposed to learn from that.


Maybe that if you're as brilliant an investor as Buffett (one of very few to make it really big by investments) you don't need to care about having a snazzy web site :)


I'll try to remember that if I ever become a brilliant investor.


Be sure to remember who said it first ;-)


I love it, except...

align = center?

Must we?

I guess everyone has their pet peeves...


This is what capitalism is supposed to be about.

Profits, not mountains of debt. secure jobs, no govt. bailouts, etc. etc. old school.

Buffet will be studied for generations to come.


I agree that Buffet is an excellent (and rare?) example of Good Capitalism.

But Berkshire has tremendously benefited from bail-outs of it's holdings like GE and GS!


I might not say tremendously because GE and GS came to him in desperation looking for capital. Buffet probably would have done bigger deals with even better terms if they didn't get any bailout money. But his much bigger holdings in Wells Fargo sure benefited!

GS especially was buying Buffett's credibility more so than they needed a cash infusion in the wake of the financial meltdown.


GS had a deal with Buffett squared away before the Feds ordered them to take TARP money, which they repaid at 20% interest! It's unreasonable to lump them it with the others.


True. Too bad the media is on a witch hunt, and finds it convenient to gloss over facts for the sake of generating indignation over Tax-Payer Funded Bonuses Of Inconceivable Magnitude, so most people don't know this.

The GS employees I know are not happy about this...


They should include in their annual report "this year our corporate tax paid for x nurses and income tax on our employees bonuses paid for y teachers".


Yes but...

He's like a very good baseball fielder who moves to where the ball will be. It's not his doing that the govt. is doing all this bailout crap. He just positioned himself under the rain of money.

He got rich BEFORE it, remember that.


My coworker bought some BRK.B shares a few months ago, he was making hundreds of dollars a day for a few weeks... I think he had 8 shares :)


Not bad... but how the story ends? Did he ever take those paper profits?

BRK haven't been stellar performer lately.


From Warren's own words, if you are looking at the price of an asset from day to day, you aren't an investor - you are a speculator, and a speculator generally shouldn't be interested in his company as his investment philosophy is completely at odds with theirs. Obviously this statement applies just as much to the person referred to in the comment you replied to as to your comment.


Shrug

The site isn't for you.


Yeah, right, and Warren Buffet hand writes his annual reports, which his secretary mimeographs and sends by carrier pigeon to stockholders. Give me a fucking break.


It's a crappy website. The navigation sucks. It's a hodgepodge of inline and external style sheets. Links to pdfs with no warnings of such. Sure he knows how to invest money, but that doesn't mean his website isn't crap. It's just to show how "frugal" he is. Sure I bet they spend more money on bottled water on any given day than what they spent to produce this unmaintainable piece of crap.


Wow, seriously?

I don't get how such popular websites (Drudge, Craigs) can be so underdeveloped. It almost seems like they don't deserve their amount of success.


I actually prefer BH's website to any corporate site I have seen. everything is there, is easy to find and there are no pictures cluttering the screen.


It fits the needs of the company, with a minimum of visual noise. How is this "underdeveloped?"


Function.




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