Warren Buffett on Acquisitions in 2006

 

All the passages below are taken from Berkshire Hathaway 2006 Annual report.

 

                                    www.berkshirehathaway.com

 

We began 2006 by completing the three acquisitions pending at yearend 2005, spending about $6 billion for PacifiCorp, Business Wire and Applied Underwriters. All are performing very well.

 

The highlight of the year, however, was our July 5th acquisition of most of ISCAR, an Israeli company, and our new association with its chairman, Eitan Wertheimer, and CEO, Jacob Harpaz. The story here began on October 25, 2005, when I received a 1¼-page letter from Eitan, of whom I then knew nothing. The letter began, “I am writing to introduce you to ISCAR,” and proceeded to describe a cutting-tool business carried on in 61 countries. Then Eitan wrote, “We have for some time considered the issues of generational transfer and ownership that are typical for large family enterprises, and have given much thought to ISCAR’s future. Our conclusion is that Berkshire Hathaway would be the ideal home for ISCAR. We believe that ISCAR would continue to thrive as a part of your portfolio of businesses.”

 

Overall, Eitan’s letter made the quality of the company and the character of its management leap off the page. It also made me want to learn more, and in November, Eitan, Jacob and ISCAR’s CFO, Danny Goldman, came to Omaha. A few hours with them convinced me that if we were to make a deal, we would be teaming up with extraordinarily talented managers who could be trusted to run the business after a sale with all of the energy and dedication that they had exhibited previously. However, having never bought a business based outside of the U.S. (though I had bought a number of foreign stocks), I needed to get educated on some tax and jurisdictional matters. With that task completed, Berkshire purchased 80% of ISCAR for $4 billion. The remaining 20% stays in the hands of the Wertheimer family, making it our valued partner. ISCAR’s products are small, consumable cutting tools that are used in conjunction with large and expensive machine tools. It’s a business without magic except for that imparted by the people who run it. But Eitan, Jacob and their associates are true managerial magicians who constantly develop tools that make their customers’ machines more productive. The result: ISCAR makes money because it enables its customers to make more money. There is no better recipe for continued success.

 

In September, Charlie and I, along with five Berkshire associates, visited ISCAR in Israel. We – and I mean every one of us – have never been more impressed with any operation. At ISCAR, as throughout Israel, brains and energy are ubiquitous. Berkshire shareholders are lucky to have joined with Eitan, Jacob, Danny and their talented associates.

 

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A few months later, Berkshire again became “the buyer of choice” in a deal brought to us by my friend, John Roach, of Fort Worth. John, many of you will remember, was Chairman of Justin Industries, which we bought in 2000. At that time John was helping John Justin, who was terminally ill, find a permanent home for his company. John Justin died soon after we bought Justin Industries, but it has since been run exactly as we promised him it would be.

 

Visiting me in November, John Roach brought along Paul Andrews, Jr., owner of about 80% of TTI, a Fort Worth distributor of electronic components. Over a 35-year period, Paul built TTI from $112,000 of sales to $1.3 billion. He is a remarkable entrepreneur and operator.

 

Paul, 64, loves running his business. But not long ago he happened to witness how disruptive the death of a founder can be both to a private company’s employees and the owner’s family. What starts out as disruptive, furthermore, often evolves into destructive. About a year ago, therefore, Paul began to think about selling TTI. His goal was to put his business in the hands of an owner he had carefully chosen, rather than allowing a trust officer or lawyer to conduct an auction after his death.

 

Paul rejected the idea of a “strategic” buyer, knowing that in the pursuit of “synergies,” an owner of that type would be apt to dismantle what he had so carefully built, a move that would uproot hundreds of his associates (and perhaps wound TTI’s business in the process). He also ruled out a private equity firm, which would very likely load the company with debt and then flip it as soon as possible.

 

That left Berkshire. Paul and I met on the morning of November 15th and made a deal before lunch. Later he wrote me: “After our meeting, I am confident that Berkshire is the right owner for TTI . . . I am proud of our past and excited about our future.” And so are Charlie and I.

 

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We also made some “tuck-in” acquisitions during 2006 at Fruit of the Loom (“Fruit”), MiTek, CTB, Shaw and Clayton. Fruit made the largest purchases. First, it bought Russell Corp., a leading producer of athletic apparel and uniforms for about $1.2 billion (including assumed debt) and in December it agreed to buy the intimate apparel business of VF Corp. Together, these acquisitions add about $2.2 billion to Fruit’s sales and bring with them about 23,000 employees.

 

Charlie and I love it when we can acquire businesses that can be placed under managers, such as John Holland at Fruit, who have already shown their stuff at Berkshire. MiTek, for example, has made 14 acquisitions since we purchased it in 2001, and Gene Toombs has delivered results from these deals far in excess of what he had predicted. In effect, we leverage the managerial talent already with us by these tuck-in deals. We will make many more. 

 

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We continue, however, to need “elephants” in order for us to use Berkshire’s flood of incoming cash. Charlie and I must therefore ignore the pursuit of mice and focus our acquisition efforts on much bigger game.

 

Our exemplar is the older man who crashed his grocery cart into that of a much younger fellow while both were shopping. The elderly man explained apologetically that he had lost track of his wife and was preoccupied searching for her. His new acquaintance said that by coincidence his wife had also wandered off and suggested that it might be more efficient if they jointly looked for the two women. Agreeing, the older man asked his new companion what his wife looked like. “She’s a gorgeous blonde,” the fellow answered, “with a body that would cause a bishop to go through a stained glass window, and she’s wearing tight white shorts. How about yours?” The senior citizen wasted no words: “Forget her, we’ll look for yours.”

 

What we are looking for is described on page 25. If you have an acquisition candidate that fits, call me – day or night. And then watch me shatter a stained glass window. [5-7]

 

February 28, 2007                     Warren E. Buffett

Chairman of the Board