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Warren Buffet’s longtime business partner and Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger has died at the age of 99.
First reported by The Wall Street Journal, Munger had been hospitalized for an unknown length of time in a California hospital. His family hasn’t shared the cause of death; however, they said he passed “peacefully.”
“Berkshire Hathaway could not have been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom and participation,” Buffet said in a prepared statement moments after Munger’s death.
An Omaha native, Munger had a unique rise to the top of the business world. He briefly studied mathematics at the University of Michigan before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. The Army sent Munger to the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of Technology to study thermodynamics and meteorology — two useful skills for his role as a weather forecaster in Nome, Alaska.
When the war ended, Munger convinced a Harvard School of Law dean to admit him, despite never finishing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. The future Berkshire Hathaway magnate graduated magna cum laude in 1948 and moved to Los Angeles to begin his career in real estate law and investing.
One of Munger’s first successes with real estate investing came through the great-grandson of Times Mirror Co. founder Harrison Gray Otis, Franklin Otis Booth. According to Forbes, Booth enlisted Munger to help him navigate the purchase of a printing company. The deal fell through, but Munger helped Booth seize another opportunity in Los Angeles’ condominium market.
The pair poured $1 million into a 40-unit condominium complex, and within two years, they’d made their money back and then some. “He shamed me into demonstrating the wisdom of my own advice,” Munger told Forbes in 1998.
In 1959, Munger and Buffet met at a dinner in Omaha. Both men recalled hearing bits and pieces of information about each other over the years, with Buffet’s first investor noting he reminded him of Munger.
“I think Warren felt that Charlie was the smartest person he’d ever met, and I think Charlie felt Warren was the smartest person he had ever met,” Buffet’s first wife, Susan, told The WSJ in 1998.
The pair were inseparable, even as Buffett continued to build his investing empire in Omaha and Munger co-founded Munger, Tolles & Olson, a law firm specializing in real estate, corporate and tax law, among several other practice areas. Munger also built his investing muscle, with his portfolio as an investment management partner performing slightly ahead of Buffet’s.
“Buffett’s partnerships returned an average of 24.3 percent annually. Munger’s did even better, averaging annualized gains of 24.4 percent,” The WSJ‘s article read. “Over their 14-year history, his portfolios gained an average of 19.8 percent annually; the S&P 500 grew at only a 5.2 percent rate.”
Munger shuttered his investment partnerships in 1975, and three years later, Buffet called on Munger to be the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the parent company of multiple globally known brands, including Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.
“[Berkshire] has been built to Charlie’s blueprint,” Buffett said. “[He told me], ‘Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.'”
Even as old age and worsening eyesight from a botched cataract surgery in 1978 began to take their toll, Munger continued to be an integral part of Berkshire Hathaway well into his 90s, with Buffet often turning to his friend for solid advice.
The vice chairman was an amateur architect, noted author and avid philanthropist. He gave millions of dollars to Stanford University, Los Angeles’s Good Samaritan Hospital, Planned Parenthood and several other organizations, partially in honor of his son, Teddy, who died of leukemia in 1955 at the age of 9.
Munger leaves behind seven children. His first wife, Nancy Huggins Freeman, died in 2002. His second wife, Nancy Barry Borthwick, died in 2010.