Technical LessonsBy Mel Duvall | Posted 2003-08-01 Print
Shareholders nearly deify Warren Buffett for the way he manages his diverse holding company, Berkshire Hathaway of Omaha.
Many people look to Buffett for investment wisdom and management guidance. But those CEOs who recognize they aren't divine in their oracular ability to see who is and who isn't honest to the core will have to supplement those ideas with technology—if they want to comply with new laws and avoid accounting trouble. For every Buffett management lesson, there generally is a technology backup.
Here is a look at some of the Buffett's management principles and whether information systems provide safeguards:
No one is scandal-proof. In 1991, Buffett was dragged into a mess at brokerage firm Salomon Brothers, where a rogue trader attempted to corner the market in Treasury bills. The trader violated rules barring one firm from bidding for more than 35% of the securities offered at auction. Today, computer programming could have enforced the rules. But when Buffett agreed to become Salomon's CEO, he went before Congress, apologized for the employee's actions and issued this dictum to other Salomon staff: "Lose money for the firm and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless."
Buffett's forthrightness was credited with saving the company. Therein lies Buffett's greatest lesson: Information systems may be able to detect fraud, once perpetrated, and help track down the culprits.
But management's actions in a crisis will ultimately determine if the company stays in business.
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