He was among 165 students in a Columbia University investing class.
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.”
Remarkably, Combs began doing just that, keeping track of how many pages and what he read each day. Eventually finding and reading productive material became second nature, a habit. As he began his investing career, he would read even more, hitting 600, 750, even 1,000 pages a day.
Combs discovered that Buffett’s formula worked, giving him more knowledge that helped him with what became his primary job — seeking the truth about potential investments.
After graduating, Combs worked as a bank regulator and in the pricing department of Progressive Insurance and, five years later, he began running Castle Point Capital, a private investment fund in Greenwich, Conn., where he lived.
His road to Omaha began when he met a money manager from Australia who was going to California to see Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire and a confidant of Buffett’s. Combs remembers thinking, “I’d like to meet Charlie some day.”
Not long afterward, Combs was headed to California and called Munger’s office, figuring it was “pretty unlikely” that he would get to see Munger.
To his surprise, Munger offered to meet him at the California Club for breakfast. “I was terrified,” Combs said. He had attended two of Berkshire’s annual shareholder meetings in Omaha and knew that Munger often gave blunt assessments of people and businesses.
“But we really hit it off,” Combs said. “He’s the most warm, gentle man.”
The two talked for hours, and Munger offered to get together again. Combs quickly arranged to return to California. Eventually, Munger told him, “I really think Warren would like to meet you.”
Combs, of course, needed no persuasion and, in the fall of 2010, he was invited to Buffett’s office. He arrived at 10 a.m., met people and talked, went with Buffett for a two-hour lunch at Piccolo’s restaurant and returned to the office.
“We just talked and talked and talked,” Combs said. “I’ll never forget it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you’ve met someone very special. It’s really hard to describe.”
Eventually, Buffett began talking about his plan to hire a money manager. Combs — this is true, he insists — started thinking about another person he could recommend. But Buffett had another idea.
“He said, ‘Well, I think we’re kind of thinking of you.’ Flabbergasted would be an understatement,” Combs said.
As the stunned Combs listened, Buffett talked about compensation and suggested they both think about the offer. Combs returned home and talked with his wife, April, about the job and Omaha, then accepted Buffett’s offer.