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Collection: Warren Buffett - #115 Personal 'How To Identify An Honest Person'



My name’s Kevin Murphy, I’m from Camarillo, California. And my question is, what do you look for when determining if a person is honest or not?


Now, that’s a good question, Kevin.

You — I think, generally, Charlie and I can do pretty well with the situations we see, but we have to have some evidence of behavior in front of us. And I would say even there’s some occupations where we’re going to expect to find a higher percentage of people who behave well than in others.

But if we work with someone over a period of a few months or more, I think we’ve got — we can come up with a pretty high batting average, in terms of how they behave.

At Salomon, I think I was able to separate out the people who I felt very good about and the people I was a little more nervous about fairly quickly, among the ones I worked with actively.

But how you spot that precisely, you know — leave your lunch money on their — (laughs) — on their desk sometime, Kevin. Maybe you’ll find out in a hurry, but — (Laughter)

We like people — you know, I mean, the great example, you know, is somebody like a Tom Murphy, where they’re just bending over backwards all the time to make sure that you get the better end of the deal.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive. I mean, if you play him at a golf game for money or something like that, you know, he wants to win in the worst way. But he —

But there are people that just — they don’t take credit for things that they didn’t do. In fact, they give you credit for some of the things that maybe they did. You can get a feel for it over time.

Charlie, you have any good guidelines on that?


Yes. I think that people leave track records in life. And so, somebody at your age should figure that by the time he’s 22 or ’3, well, he will have left quite a track record and the world will be able to figure you out.

So I think that track records are very important. And if you start early, trying to have a perfect record in some simple thing like honesty, you’re well on the way to success in this world. (Applause)


[Italian industrialist] Gianni Agnelli one time told me, he said, “When you get older, you have the reputation you deserve.” He said you can get away —


Yeah, yeah.


— with it for a while early on. But by the time anybody gets to be 60 or so, they very probably have the reputation they deserve. And the truth is you can have the reputation that you want.

If you list all of the things that you admire in other people, you’ll find out that almost everything you list — you may not be able to kick a football 60 yards or something of that sort — but almost everything you list in the people that you admire and like, they’re qualities that you can have if you just set out to do that.

Didn’t Ben Franklin do that, Charlie?


Oh, sure. I always say that the best way to get what you want is to deserve what you want.


I’ll have some more peanut brittle. (Laughter) Area 6.


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