Todd Combs Becomes GEICO CEO

In December 2019, Warren Buffett named Todd Combs, one of Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio managers, as the chief executive officer of the auto insurer GEICO. CNBC notes,

Combs will continue managing $14 billion of investments at Berkshire, the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate he joined in 2010.

“That’s an awful lot of work for one person,” said Meyer Shields, a Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analyst. “Warren Buffett has talked about the overlap between being a good investor and a good businessperson,” Shields said. “This puts that into action, letting Combs broaden his operational expertise.”

Combs, who once worked at Progressive Insurance, is also a JPMorgan Chase & Co director and helped launch Haven, the project Berkshire, JPMorgan and Amazon.com Inc launched to reduce their employees’ healthcare costs.

Buddha Nature v/s Thomas Hobbes’s View

American poet Allen Ginsberg writes in Spontaneous Intelligence,

I think everybody has a natural inclination to compassion. It gets covered over by frustration, ignorance, bad experiences, bad karma, but underneath it, as they say, everybody has a Buddha-nature which is compassionate. This is exactly the opposite of the Hobbesian view, which is that underneath everybody is a snarling animal.

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What Commissions are Investment Advisors Getting Paid?

In March 2013, Becky Quick interviewed Warren Buffett on CNBC and asked about investment fees. Buffett made some interesting comments on Berkshire’s portfolio managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler. He spoke about individual investors in the exchange below, and his advice is applicable to institutional investors as well.

Becky Quick: A lot of Main Street investors think they can’t get a fair shake on Wall Street. Can they?

Warren Buffett: Well, they pay a lot of expenses in many cases. They don’t need to. They should buy a low-cost index fund and they can participate in the growth of America over the next 20 or 30 or 40 years and they’ll do fine. But if they’re paying high fees to achieve that same result, they’re going to get hurt. They should look very carefully at costs. But they should hold a diversified group of really high-class companies, which you can do by buying an index fund. And then they should forget it. They should just pretend the stock market closes for five years and they shouldn’t look at prices every day…

The people selling you securities are often selling you things they make a lot of money in. The first question you should ask of anybody selling you securities is, ‘How are you getting paid and how much are you getting paid?’ The truth is you can own index funds with a very, very low cost and you will end up getting the same performance that you get from people who charge you a lot more.

So, you always want to look at costs. When somebody comes around to you and says, ‘I’m going to sell you this wonderful security but there’s this big chunk in it for me,” you get suspicious.

The Only Moment to Be Alive

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Peace Is Every Step (1990,)

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.

Dharma Teachings Everywhere

Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah quoted in Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters (2010):

The Dharma of the Buddha is not to be found in books. If you want to really see for yourself what the Buddha was talking about you don’t need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how feelings come and go, how thoughts come and go. Don’t be attached to anything, just be mindful of whatever is there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha. Be natural. Everything you do in your life here is a chance to practice. It is all Dharma. When you do your chores try to be mindful. If you are emptying a spittoon or cleaning a toilet don’t feel you are doing it as a favor for anyone else. There is Dharma in emptying spittoons. Don’t feel you are practicing only when sitting cross-legged. Some of you have complained that three is not enough time to meditate. Is there enough time to breathe? This is your meditation: mindfulness, naturalness in whatever you do.

15 Most Beautiful Villages in Spain

Lori Zaino of The Points Guy lists some of Spain’s best charming villages:

  • Altea, Comunidad Valenciana
  • Albarracín, Aragon
  • Cadaqués, Catalonia
  • Alcalá del Júcar, Castilla de la Mancha
  • Tejada, Gran Canaria
  • 6.San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Rioja
  • Potes, Cantabria
  • Combarro, Galicia
  • Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalusia
  • Hondarribia, Basque Country
  • Cudillero, Asturias
  • Deia, Mallorca
  • Guadalupe, Extremadura
  • Olite, Navarra
  • Buitrago de Lozoya, Comunidad de Madrid

Lucky Break In Hollywood: Lana Turner

Nathan Kontny cites this star-got-lucky-in-Hollywood story on Signal v. Noise

Lana Turner, one of the most glamorous and popular female stars of Hollywood during the 40s and 50s is a great example.

She was 16, ditching a high-school typing class and drinking a Coke at a soda shop in Hollywood, when someone spotted how attractive she was. He recommended her to his Hollywood agent friend and soon she was in a movie. Gorgeous girl—right place at the right time—lucky.

Ideas are Worthless, Execution is Everything

David Berube writes,

If you’re thinking of having someone sign an NDA before you share your idea with them, please read this first. I don’t mean this post to be an insult; I only hope that it helps founders refocus on what’s truly important: doing everything you can to execute.

Designing a Successful Customer-Loyalty Program

Jess Huang of McKinsey on how customer experience is key for designing loyalty programs:

The first thing you need to do is define success, so you have objectives to measure your effectiveness. It cannot be as loosey-goosey as just wanting to drive loyalty with all consumers. You have to know which consumers you’re targeting and what type of loyalty you’re driving. What is it that you actually want them to do? Do you want them to spend on more profitable products or services? The next thing is to make sure that whatever you’re trying to accomplish with the loyalty program is consistent with your overall company strategy and brand messaging.

You also want to design something that’s flexible enough to remain viable as your company and strategy evolve. Finally, loyalty programs can get expensive very fast and don’t always create value for companies. So you have to go in with eyes wide open and design a program that creates value for the consumer and for you. That often involves finding a way to leverage the gap between a consumer’s perceived value of something and your cost to provide it.

If you cannot clearly articulate why you want to launch a loyalty program for a given customer or business objective, there’s really no point, because you don’t even know what you’re designing. But if you have a clear idea of who you want to drive specific business objectives with, go and understand that customer. Don’t just design a program you think you or your consumers would like.

Why We Underestimate Plants

Michael Pollan in the foreword to Jane Goodall’s Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants,

I suspect the habit of underestimating [plants] has its roots in our self-centered definition of what constitutes complexity or sophistication. We prize things like self-consciousness or abstract reasoning or language simply because these have been the destinations of our own evolutionary journey—the particular tools we evolved to help us cope with living on this earth. Yet the plants have been evolving even longer than we have, evolving their own tools for living, and these are easily as sophisticated as ours, just different. So while we were working hard on locomotion and consciousness, they were getting really, really good at biochemistry, up to and including their mastery of the astonishing trick of eating sunlight and turning it into food.