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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Address Columbia Business School Students

Pursue your passions – not just what promises to be most lucrative – and stay curious. That was among the career advice offered to Columbia Business School (CBS) students last week by captains of industry Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. More than 700 CBS students gathered on November 12th to hear the two American business icons discuss the economy, investing during a downturn and which industries promise the most future growth, among other topics.

Both Gates and Buffett were optimistic when asked about the American economy. Even amid the economic downturn, the never lost faith in the capitalist system, they said. Both agree that market fundamentals and innovation will continue to bolster the economy.

Buffett, a CBS alumnus (MS ’51), talked a great deal about the influence of his mentor, Professor Benjamin Graham (CC’14). Graham, together with David Dodd (MS ’21), developed value investing, a methodology for spotting and purchasing securities well below their value. According to Buffett, these and other core skills he learned from Graham are what made him a shrewd investor. (CBS established the Heilbrunn Center for Graham and Dodd Investing to celebrate Buffett’s mentor in 2002, where classes today in Value Investing, Economics of Strategic Behavior, Globalization of Markets and Strategic Management of Media are consistently oversubscribed.)  

For his part, Gates pointed toward areas of economic growth in the United States. These include information technology, healthcare and clean energy, he said. Risk management in the financial markets and the K-12 school system, meanwhile, are areas in need of improvement, he continued.

Fielding questions about life and career advice, Buffett urged students to pursue work they are passionate about and not just work they think will earn then a lot of money. Gates encouraged students to remain inquisitive and to regularly read about and research topics of interest. Both businessmen underscored the importance of preparedness, which they said allowed them to seize opportunities and gave them the confidence to take risks.

The event marked the first time Buffett and Gates have appeared together at CBS. Their last joint appearance at a student forum took place in 2005 at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

To view a clip of the dialogue, click here.

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