- Greater appreciation of life
- Greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships
- Increased compassion and altruism
- The identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life
- Greater awareness and utilization of personal strengths
- Enhanced spiritual development
- Creative growth
There is a great book by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey called What Happened to You? (2021) about trauma and resilience. Dr. Perry helped Oprah set up her leadership school for girls who had experienced sexual violence and abuse as children. Here, he uses the term Post Traumatic Wisdom or PTW. The text, using this concept, offers a great way to look at the adversity—you aren’t less because of the trauma that happened to you. When you experience it, pull through and thrive, you have a wisdom that others may never have.
It is possible to thrive after a disaster. Given that 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women report at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, we need to develop a new attitude to pain. As with failure, we are taught to avoid pain from the earliest age. Pain, however, is not only unavoidable, it is essential.
COVID-19 has presented all manner of trauma for millions of people. Lives have been lost, businesses ruined, relationships torn apart, and careers ruined. If you are fortunate enough to be alive to be reading this, then this trauma can turn into an even greater advantage.
I do not know of a single great artist, musician, entrepreneur, religious leader, or military commander, personally or by reputation, who avoided pain. You must know you can endure pain to be a leader. It is by withstanding pain that you find the truth and break free from the constraints that put you in danger—moral, physical or emotional—in the first place.
The types of pain most people want to avoid include:
- Physical pain (lack of exercise)
- Mental pain (lack of disciplined thought)
- Emotional pain (fear of loss of love)
- Social pain (fear of failure)
- Financial pain (fear of financial risk)
- Pain that keeps us locked in the prison of our comfort zone (fear of life)
Sam Chand spells it out beautifully: “Do you want to be a better leader? Raise the threshold of your pain. Reluctance to face pain is your greatest limitation. There is no growth without change, no change without loss and no loss without pain. Bottom line: If you’re not hurting, you’re not leading.”
Until recently, most of my pain was self-inflicted, giving up a social life to work, dedicating my time and energy to my business. The greatest test of my life has been my trial and public accusations of wrongdoing. I was fortunate to have the funds to fight a battle in court , but my money would have been worthless if I hadn’t been prepared to suffer through the pain of this battle. The measure of the strength of your character is your ability to endure pain. This translates into your ability to seek the truth and escape the prison of your comfort zone and mediocrity. Quite directly, your free will is dependent on your ability to endure pain.
The amount of pain and trauma you can endure and turn into an equal or greater advantage is the measure of your ability to connect with your fundamental will to be free. Each of us has that fundamental will, and each of us can identify, surface and connect with that will through making the subconscious conscious.
To understand how enduring pain can free your will, become an art and music lover. Most great art and music comes from a place of great pain.
Hegel said it best: “If we are in a general way permitted to regard human activity in the realm of the beautiful as a liberation of the soul, as a release from constraint and restriction, in short, to consider that art does actually alleviate the most overpowering and tragic catastrophes by means of the creations it offers to our contemplation and enjoyment, it is the art of music which conducts us to the final summit of that ascent to freedom.”
If you want to succeed, you must study the masters in your field. This might seem obvious, but the most successful people make it an obsession.
If you find your happiness in business, start by memorizing the Forbes 400. You have to read every single scrap of information you can find about people who are successful. You need to read and emulate. Then, most importantly, put your own ingredients in the mix. I learned the hard way that you cannot simply emulate someone else’s success; you must always innovate.
Many savvy investors have admired the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) model that provides $118 billion in insurance “float” for investment , primarily in affiliated equity. Competing buyers, like private equity funds, must pay equity returns to their investors, whereas BRK’s cost of funds is based on underwriting losses and annuity crediting rates—a far lower cost than private equity LPs demand or even corporate debt markets.
Under insurance laws in many states, and under the NAIC Model Holding Company Act, affiliated investments are permitted without limitation, provided they are fair and reasonable. So, why is BRK the only insurance company with the majority of its assets invested in affiliates? The answer: Regulators in various states don’t like the model of affiliate investment.
The BRK model was first approved by the Nebraska Department of Insurance in the late 1960s and 1970s. Now, this approval is effectively grandfathered, and further approvals for new entrants into the market are not welcome.
Senator Ben Nelson was appointed the director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance in 1975. He made the wise decision to support the growth of BRK’s National Indemnity’s affiliate investments. Policyholders win when their premiums are invested by a long-term, patient and savvy investor with a reputation for investing in inflation-protected investments.
BRK has become the backstop for the entire P&C world, and has l owered the cost of insurance worldwide with its large balance sheet. It has also provided stable capital for a long-term buy and hold approach protecting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of employees. It’s the right model of capitalism—long-term and people-focused.
Numerous investors have pondered how to replicate this model. I tried to replicate it. Some critics might say, “well, you aren’t Warren Buffett.” True, I’m not.
My group of companies was founded with $5,000 in 1991 and has a fair value net worth in excess of $1 billion today—a CAGR in excess of 50 percent. This corporate annual growth rate is a significantly better performance than BRK and most family offices, private equity funds, hedge funds, and publicly traded conglomerates. Other critics might say, “Well, you don’t have Warren Buffett’s reputation.” True, but where was Warren Buffett in 1980? Our equity returns are better.
Some other reasons our model was superior to BRK include:
- BRK typically puts its acquisitions on the balance sheet as “wholly owned subsidiaries,” which means these assets are less liquid than our middle market loans. Refinancing a loan is easier than selling a company.
- BRK is primarily a P&C insurance company, which has more volatile liabilities and needs more liquid reserves than a life insurance company.
- Our portfolio is more 21st-century oriented, with a focus on health care, technology, and financial services. And, our investment track record is superior to what Buffett was able to achieve at the same age.
- We added two layers of disaffiliation to provide third-party oversight in a downside scenario: stock holdings in trusts and affiliated assets managed by third parties. BRK doesn’t have these protections. If things “go south,” the largest shareholder can call all the shots—which could lead to a conflict between the shareholder of the parent company and the policyholders of the subsidiary insurance companies.
It wasn’t until March 2018 that the Nebraska Department of Insurance told us it would never allow anyone to repeat what Warren Buffett did. Through no fault of his own, Buffett now has an ironclad regulatory monopoly on investing insurance reserves in affiliates. No one else need apply. Warren Buffett made his $100 billion and single-handedly lowered insurances rates worldwide. But don’t try to emulate his success because the door is firmly closed to new entrants.