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1 Good Business Writing 9 January 2007 Eric Rasmusen, G492.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Good Business Writing 9 January 2007 Eric Rasmusen, G492."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Good Business Writing 9 January 2007 Eric Rasmusen, erasmuse@indiana.edu G492

2 2 Good Business Writing 9 January 2007 Eric Rasmusen, erasmuse@indiana.edu G492

3 3 Good Business Writing 9 January 2007 Eric Rasmusen, erasmuse@indiana.edu G492

4 4 Last time If you look at your sentences again, you can almost always improve them. Writing rules are not arbitrary: they are intended to make writing clearer.

5 5 ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE 1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's 2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last 3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas 4. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause et cetera…

6 6 The Jones Example "How to form the possessive of polysyllabic personal names ending with the sound of "s" or "z" probably occasions more dissension among writers and editors than any other orthographic matter open to disagreement. (The Chicago Manual of Style, Rule 6.30) The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual would write Jones'. The Chicago Manual of Style has a general rule of adding "s" so we get, e.g., Harris's name, and, applied to Jones, Jones's name. But the Chicago Manual suggests "If it ends with a z sound, treat it like a plural; if it ends with an s sound treat it like a singular." (http://www2.ncsu.edu:8010/ncsu/grammar/Apostro3.html)

7 7 Some points of style 1. Include a title page with anything over 5 pages long. 2. Indent new paragraphs. 3. Use footnotes, not endnotes. Any citation style is okay, if it gives all the information necessary to find the reference. 4. Give sources for facts and quotations. 5. Dont plagiarize. 6. Use quotations only when appropriate. 7. A company is it, not they. 8. Dont use the words assert or state. 9. Give me the rough and final drafts in electronic form as well as paper, and put your last name as the start of the filename, e. g., lipsky.492.doc. Any wordprocessing format is okay.

8 8 Benjamin Franklins Method Find some writer that you admire, and imitate his style. Take notes on the substance of what he is trying to say. Then at some later time expand your notes into paragraphs, and compare how well you did with the original.

9 9 Warren Buffetts Annual Message to Shareholders Even Mr. Buffett's management team anxiously awaits the boss's letter, which will praise some Berkshire firms and criticize others. "It's our report card from Warren," says Joseph Brandon, CEO of General Re Corp., a big insurance subsidiary, who postponed his Saturday plans until the afternoon. "It's the only company in the world where your performance review is a public document."

10 10 His Method This year's report began like all the others: handwritten on a yellow legal pad. His first words are: "Dear Doris and Bertie" - - his sisters. He pretends he is writing a letter to them to keep a homespun tone, to avoid jargon and speak candidly. Writing at home or on his company's Gulfstream IV jet, he scrawls notes and then passes them to an assistant to be typed and triple- spaced, "so I have room to make changes," he says.

11 11 This year, he went through dozens of triple- spaced drafts. He eventually crosses out his sisters' names, substitutes "To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.," and prints it out. This version is sent to Carol Loomis, a longtime friend of Mr. Buffett's and editor-at-large at Fortune magazine, who has edited his letters for 25 years -- and has three bracelets made up of enameled copies of annual-report covers to show for it.

12 12 He's his own fact-checker. Last week on a plane ride from Manhattan to Omaha, he confirmed statistics on the percentage of new homes in the U.S. that are mobile homes (more than 15%), which he included in a paragraph about Berkshire's acquisition last year of mobile-home giant Clayton Homes. Mr. Buffett also is graphic designer, if you can call it that. His letter has no photographs, changes in font or type size or glitzy graphics. He makes sure financial tables don't break between pages. And he cuts "widows," a single word on a line that leaves unused white space. Attention to Detail

13 13 Errors will usually be honest, reflecting only the human tendency to take an optimistic view of ones commitments. 1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's. Errors will usually be honest, reflecting only the human tendency to take an optimistic view of one's commitments. Examples of Buffetts Writing

14 14 Now, from our ever-expanding collection of manufacturing, retailing, service, and finance, businesses, we earn that sum monthly. 2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last. Now, from our ever-expanding collection of manufacturing, retailing, service and finance businesses, we earn that sum monthly.

15 15 Recently, in contrast, one of the world's largest reinsurers-- a company regularly recommended to primary insurers by leading brokers has all but ceased paying claims, including those both valid and due. 3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. Recently, in contrast, one of the world's largest reinsurers, a company regularly recommended to primary insurers by leading brokers, has all but ceased paying claims, including those both valid and due. Recently, in contrast, one of the world's largest reinsurers -- a company regularly recommended to primary insurers by leading brokers -- has all but ceased paying claims, including those both valid and due.

16 16 Berkshire's reinsurance division and GEICO shot the lights out in 2002; and underwriting discipline was restored at General Re. 4. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause. Berkshire's reinsurance division and GEICO shot the lights out in 2002, and underwriting discipline was restored at General Re.

17 17 All figures used in this report apply to Berkshire's A shares, the successor to the only stock that the company had outstanding before 1996, the B shares have an economic interest equal to 1/30th that of the A. 5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma. All figures used in this report apply to Berkshire's A shares, the successor to the only stock that the company had outstanding before 1996. The B shares have an economic interest equal to 1/30th that of the A.

18 18 For last year, when we didn't have any truly major disasters, a downward adjustment is appropriate. If you wish to "normalize" our underwriting result. 6. Do not break sentences in two. For last year, when we didn't have any truly major disasters, a downward adjustment is appropriate if you wish to "normalize" our underwriting result.

19 19 Wanting, however, to supplement her family's modest income, food preparation was what she thought about. 7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject. Wanting, however, to supplement her family's modest income, she turned to thinking about what she knew best -- food preparation.

20 20 ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION 9. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic. 10. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning. 11. Use the active voice. 12. Put statements in positive form. 13. Omit needless words. 14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences. 15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form. 16. Keep related words together. 17. In summaries, keep to one tense. 18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

21 21 8. Choose a suitable design, and hold to it A. Overall numbers and philosophy B. Acquisitions C. The economics of Insurance D. How it applies to General Re and Geico E. Sources of earnings and non-insurance operations F. Derivative securities and General Re G. Investments in stocks and junk bonds H. Thoughts on corporate governance I. Shareholder charitable contributions (very short) J. The annual meeting

22 22 9. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic Our gain in net worth during 2002 was $6.1 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 10.0%. Over the last 38 years (that is, since present management took over) per- share book value has grown from $19 to $41,727, a rate of 22.2% compounded annually. In all respects 2002 was a banner year. I'll provide details later, but here's a summary: Our various non-insurance operations performed exceptionally well, despite a sluggish economy. A decade ago Berkshire's annual pre-tax earnings from our non-insurance businesses was $272 million. Now, from our ever-expanding collection of manufacturing, retailing, service and finance businesses, we earn that sum monthly.

23 23 Our insurance group increased its float to $41.2 billion, a hefty gain of $5.7 billion. Better yet, the use of these funds in 2002 cost us only 1%. Getting back to low-cost float feels good, particularly after our poor results during the three previous years. Berkshire's reinsurance division and GEICO shot the lights out in 2002, and underwriting discipline was restored at General Re. Berkshire acquired some important new businesses -- with economic characteristics ranging from good to great, run by managers ranging from great to great. Those attributes are two legs of our "entrance" strategy, the third being a sensible purchase price. Unlike LBO operators and private equity firms, we have no "exit" strategy -- we buy to keep. That's one reason why Berkshire is usually the first -- and sometimes the only -- choice for sellers and their managers.

24 24 Our marketable securities outperformed most indices. For Lou Simpson, who manages equities at GEICO, this was old stuff. But, for me, it was a welcome change from the last few years, during which my investment record was dismal. The confluence of these favorable factors in 2002 caused our book-value gain to outstrip the performance of the S&P 500 by 32.1 percentage points. This result is aberrational: Charlie Munger, Berkshire's vice chairman and my partner, and I hope to achieve -- at most -- an average annual advantage of a few points. In the future, there will be years in which the S&P soundly trounces us. That will in fact almost certainly happen during a strong bull market, because the portion of our assets committed to common stocks has significantly declined. This change, of course, helps our relative performance in down markets such as we had in 2002.

25 25 9A. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning I have another caveat to mention about last year's results. If you've been a reader of financial reports in recent years, you've seen a flood of "pro-forma" earnings statements -- tabulations in which managers invariably show "earnings" far in excess of those allowed by their auditors. In these presentations, the CEO tells his owners "don't count this, don't count that -- just count what makes earnings fat." Often, a forget-all-this-bad-stuff message is delivered year after year without management so much as blushing.

26 26 10. Use the active voice I have another caveat to mention about last year's results. not Another caveat about last years results must be mentioned.

27 27 11. Put statements in positive form Gains from those strategies will certainly diminish within a year or two -- and may well disappear. not Gains from those strategies will certainly not be as big in the next year or two -- and may well not be there at all.

28 28 12. Use definite, specific, concrete language To begin with, float is money we hold but don't own. In an insurance operation, float arises because premiums are received before losses are paid, an interval that sometimes extends over many years. During that time, the insurer invests the money. This pleasant activity typically carries with it a downside: The premiums that an insurer takes in usually do not cover the losses and expenses it eventually must pay.

29 29 13. Omit needless words We continue to be blessed with an extraordinary group of managers, many of whom haven't the slightest financial need to work. They stick around, though: In 38 years, we've never had a single CEO of a subsidiary elect to leave Berkshire to work elsewhere. Counting Charlie, we now have six managers over 75, and I hope that in four years that number increases by at least two (Bob Shaw and I are both 72). Our rationale: "It's hard to teach a new dog old tricks." Berkshire's operating CEOs are masters of their crafts and run their businesses as if they were their own. My job is to stay out of their way and allocate whatever excess capital their businesses generate. It's easy work.

30 30 14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences Eddie understood that how he lugged bats was unimportant; what counted instead was hooking up with the cream of those on the playing field. I've learned from Eddie. At Berkshire, I regularly hand bats to many of the heaviest hitters in American business.

31 31 15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form Dave Sokol, MEHC's CEO, and Greg Abel, his key associate, are huge assets for Berkshire. They are dealmakers, and they are managers. Berkshire stands ready to inject massive amounts of money into MEHC -- and it will be fun to watch how far Dave and Greg can take the business.

32 32 16. Keep related words together The table that follows shows (at intervals) the float generated by the various segments of Berkshire's insurance operations since we entered the business 36 years ago upon acquiring National Indemnity Company (whose traditional lines are included in the segment "Other Primary").

33 33 17. In summaries, keep to one tense Our 2002 results were hurt by 1) a painful charge at General Re for losses that should have been recorded as costs in earlier years, and 2) a "desirable" charge we incur annually for retroactive insurance (see the next section for more about these items). These costs totaled $1.75 billion, or about 4.6% of float. Fortunately, our overall underwriting experience on 2002 business was excellent, which allowed us, even after the charges noted, to approach a no-cost result.

34 34 18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end In extreme cases, mark-to-model degenerates into what I would call mark-to-myth. … "Except for" losses will forever be part of the insurance business, and they will forever be paid with shareholders' money. (note the intentional use of the passive voice)

35 35 We want to avoid not having enough reserves. Berkshires did this, and we hope General Re will. We might not succeed. Casualty-insurance managers tend to underreserve. They need to overcome that tendency, even if they are actuarial experts. It is harder for reinsurers to do this than for primary insurers.

36 36 I can promise you that our top priority going forward is to avoid inadequate reserving. But I cant guarantee success. The natural tendency of most casualty-insurance managers is to underreserve, and they must have a particular mindset – which, it may surprise you, has nothing to do with actuarial expertise – if they are to overcome this devastating bias. Additionally, a reinsurer faces far more difficulties in reserving properly than does a primary insurer. Nevertheless, at Berkshire, we have generally been successful in our reserving, and we are determined to be at General Re as well.


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