Read 500 Pages Like This Every Day. That’s How Knowledge Works. It Builds Up, Like Compound Interest

Warren Buffett? Todd Combs? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. His lengthy record of successful investing is remarkable. Apparently, he was once asked for guidance and offered this suggestion:

Read five-hundred pages every day.

I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Warren Buffett serves as chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway. In 2010 Buffett hired hedge fund manager Todd Combs to join the conglomerate as an investment manager.

Many years before that event, Combs was a student at Columbia University. He first saw Buffett during an investing class according to an article in the “Omaha World-Herald”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Combs didn’t meet Buffett that day but says, “I still remember it like it was yesterday.”

One of the students asked what he could do now to prepare for an investing career. Buffett thought for a few seconds and then reached for the stack of reports, trade publications and other papers he had brought with him.

“Read 500 pages like this every day,” said Buffett, or words to that effect. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

The article stated that Combs heeded the advice, and at the start of his investing career he would sometimes read “600, 750, even 1,000 pages a day”. Combs believed that the knowledge he gained helped him to succeed.

The veracity of the Buffett attributed quotation is based on the memory of Todd Combs who enrolled at the Columbia Business School in 2000. In his second year he was accepted into the exclusive Value Investment Program. 2 The piece in the “Omaha World-Herald” appeared in 2013.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 2010 a piece in “The Wall Street Journal” mentioned the voracious reading habits of Todd Combs, but the pace was slower than that mentioned above. Combs required a week to read five hundred pages instead of a day: 3

“He is extremely well-trained, reads 500 pages a week and does his own deep-dive research,” said Chuck Davis, chief executive of Stone Point, who helped Mr. Combs start his own fund five years ago.

In 2014 “USA Today” published an article by Morgan Housel of the stock-picker company “The Motley Fool”. Housel repeated the remark attributed to Buffett: 4

Extraordinary people have extraordinary habits. Here are few I’ve noticed. . . .

Someone once asked Buffett the key to success. He pointed to a stack of books and explained:

Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.

In 2015 “The Irish Times” of Dublin, Ireland printed a profile of Buffett and included the quotation: 5

Todd Combs, who manages money at Berkshire, once related how Buffett was asked by students how best to prepare for an investing career. “Read 500 pages like this every day,” said Buffett, holding up a bunch of reports and trade publications. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

In conclusion, there is substantive evidence that Warren Buffet did make a remark about reading 500 pages a day. The quotation and attribution are based on the testimony of investor Todd Combs who heard it circa 2002 when he was a student at Columbia University. Combs mentioned the quotation in 2013; thus, there was a significant delay. Perhaps an earlier citation will be discovered by future researchers.

Image Notes: Books on shelves from Nemo_Jo at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Mike Crowl whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 2013 April 28, Omaha World-Herald, Investors earn handsome paychecks by handling Buffett’s business by Steve Jordon (World-Herald Staff Writer), Omaha, Nebraska. (Accessed October 12, 2018; website omaha.com) link
  2. 2010 December, AiCIO (Trade Journal), Who Is This Man?, Publisher: Asset International, Inc., Place of publication: Stamford. (ProQuest ABI/INFORM Collection)
  3. 2010 October 26, Wall Street Journal, Buffett Flags a Successor — Fund Manager Named Leading Candidate as Next Investment Chief at Berkshire, Quote Page A1, New York. (ProQuest)
  4. 2014 August 24, Website: USA Today, Article: The peculiar habits of successful people, Author: Morgan Housel (The Motley Fool), Gannett Company, McLean, Virginia. (Accessed October 12, 2018; website usatoday.com) link
  5. 2015 March 3, The Irish Times, Warren Buffett: king of investors by Proinsias O’Mahony, Quote Page A4, Column 2 and 3, Dublin, Ireland. (ProQuest)