On at least four occasions, Rutgers University students were the beneficiaries of some legendary financial acumen.
That’s a result of Rutgers Business School professor John Longo responding to the question of who might be a good mentor to teach local college students financial literacy with the answer: Warren Buffett.
And, after having his students meet with Buffett several times over the course of about 15 years, Longo is putting pen to paper on the insights he gleaned from the billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
Longo, besides teaching finance as a professor of professional practice, also works as a chief investment officer and portfolio manager for the Morristown wealth advisory firm Beacon Trust. He recently worked on a book, “Buffett’s Tips: A Guide to Financial Literacy and Life,” with his teenage son, Tyler Longo.
“My son is 16, and we were doing things like setting up a checking account for minors, getting a parent-sponsored credit card,” he said. “He was also becoming financially literate, and we decided to look at that from the framework or mindset of Buffett.”
With learning being the lifelong pursuit it is, Longo expects a whole lot more people than his son could benefit from some of the advice gathered during those meetings with Buffett. That includes business owners who might be closer to Buffett’s age than that of Longo’s students.
Changing with the times
During the pandemic, employers have had to learn to be more flexible. Teaching the latest trends in business to a busy workforce, educators have been trending toward more flexibility, too.
In November, Rutgers Business School announced it would be endeavoring to make its curriculum more accessible with a new format, called the Rutgers Stackable Business Innovation Program. It allows students to pick classes in an “a la carte” fashion, instead of committing to a standard, predefined two years of college courses for a degree.
Benjamin Melamed, a professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management at Rutgers Business School, is the program’s director. He said the current model simply isn’t flexible enough for some working professionals.
Anecdotally, he’s heard that students are very enthusiastic about this new approach. And he believes the past year has made it very apparent how necessary having the latest business knowledge is for employees, as well as employers.
“During this day and age, the technology clock in business moves quickly and professionals have to rapidly update their knowledge in their profession,” he said.
First and foremost for them, there’s the know-how for money-making and positioning yourself in the eyes of investors.
“He also spoke in detail about the type of business he likes to invest in,” Longo said. “He’s a fan of having a moat around the business. Like with Coca-Cola … everyone can mix water and sugar into soda. But the moat is the marketing and distribution channel that’s set up in more than 200 countries.”
For all the talk of starting off focused — perhaps even narrow and niche — in the world of business, Longo said it’s worth considering when it may benefit a business to “widen the moat” in that way.
As an investor, Buffett also invests in enterprises when he has a feel for what that business might look like in 20 years, Longo said. So, despite some high-profile investments in Apple, that means the tycoon-turned-tutor famously shies away from technology company investments.
When Buffett spoke to Longo’s students about skill-sets for employees, he was giving guidance on the qualities they might consider putting in the forefront during hiring processes. Business owners might also benefit from holding the same values in high esteem, Longo said.
“One of the questions he addressed is what types of people he likes to hire,” he said. “For him, it was integrity, intelligence and energy — someone who had those three characteristics. And he’s also big on conduct, and operating in a way in which all your actions would be shown on the front page of a newspaper.”
Longo’s book, which came out in late December, also has the perennial lessons: the insistence on knowing the value of saving and being frugal in any financial enterprise; or the planning for future events in a way that keeps you from overreacting to a moment of distress (say, perhaps, a pandemic).
Especially with the economy teetering on some better news in 2021, a little financial knowledge might go a long way right now.
“Everyone should become financially literate; clearly business owners often are, but sometimes they come to business from experiences in something decidedly not financially-related,” Longo said. “Not to mention, business owners can help employees become financially literate, too.”