Two Golden Rules of Competitive Advantage: Charlie Munger

Two Golden Rules of Competitive Advantage: Charlie Munger

In the ever-evolving business landscape, understanding the underpinnings of competitive advantage is crucial. Few individuals grasp this concept better than Charlie Munger, renowned investor and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. In this article, we will delve into the two guiding principles that have steered Munger’s remarkably successful investment strategy and two other edges that Buffett and Munger have in the business world.

From real-life scenarios, Munger and Buffett impart valuable lessons on how businesses can differentiate themselves from the competition, offering a unique perspective on business growth, partner relationships, market transition, and acquisition strategies. Whether you’re an investor, a business owner, or someone intrigued by the mechanics of successful businesses, this blog will provide a unique glimpse into the mindset and strategy of two of the world’s most successful investors.

The Two Golden Rules of Competitive Advantage

  1. Stay Sane in a Crazy World: This refers to the principle of maintaining a balanced and stable approach to business, rather than following high-risk, volatile trends. It emphasizes the importance of being rational, stable, and grounded in your decision-making process as a key competitive advantage.
  2. The Golden Rule Applied to Business: This principle is about treating subsidiaries as you would want to be treated. In other words, manage your business relationships, particularly those with subsidiaries or acquired companies, with the same level of respect, fairness, and consideration you’d want to be shown in their position. This approach not only leads to a healthier business environment but also becomes a unique competitive advantage by attracting partners who value such an approach.

“We’ve always tried to stay sane, and other people, a lot of them, like to go crazy. That’s a competitive advantage, number two. As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve used this sort of golden rule that we want to treat the subsidiaries the way we would want to be treated if we were in the subsidiaries. That, again, is a very rare attitude in Corporate America, and it causes people to come to us who don’t want to come to anybody else. That is a long-term competitive advantage. You’ve tried to be a good partner to people who come to us and need a partner with more money. That is a competitive advantage. So, we are leaving behind a field that’s very competitive and getting into a place where we’re more unusual. This was a very good idea; I wish we’d done it on purpose.” – Charlie Munger 

Their Competitive Advantage was they had No Competitors

“A few years ago, a person who’s in this audience, I believe, came to me. He was in his 60s, and he said that for about a year, he’d been thinking about selling his business. The reason he’d been thinking about it was not because he wanted to retire. We very seldom buy businesses from people that want to retire. He didn’t want to retire at all. He loved what he was doing. But he had an experience in buying a business a few years earlier from a family where the founder had died, and then just everything bad started happening in the family and the business. He really wanted to put to bed the question of what would happen with his business. It wasn’t that he cared a lot about monetizing it or having the money; he just wanted to put his mind at ease. What he’d spent lovingly building up over 30 or 40 years was not going to get destroyed, or that his family would get destroyed if he died.” – Warren Buffett

“So, he said he thought about it for a year. He thought about it and he thought, ‘Well, if I sell it to one of my competitors, they would be a logical buyer; they usually are; that’s why we have antitrust laws.’ If he sold it to a competitor, they would come in and basically put their people in charge. They would have all these ideas about synergy, and ‘synergy’ would mean that the people that had helped him build the business over 30 years would all get sacked. The acquiring company would come in like a conqueror, and he just didn’t want to do that to the people that had helped him over the years.” – Warren Buffett

“Then, he thought he might sell it to some private equity firm. He figured that if he sold it to them, they would load it up with debt, which he didn’t like, and then they’d resell it later on. So, he would again have lost control. They might do the same thing that he didn’t want to have happen in the first place, in terms of selling it to a competitor or whatever it might be.” – Warren Buffett

“So when he came to me, he described this, and he said, ‘It really isn’t because you’re so attractive, but you’re the only guy left standing. You’re not a competitor, you’re not a private equity firm, and I know I will get a permanent home with Berkshire. The people that have stayed with me over the years will continue to get opportunities, and they will continue to work for me. I’ll get to keep doing what I love doing, and I won’t have to worry about what will happen if something happens to me tonight.”

“Well, that company’s turned out to be a wonderful acquisition for Berkshire, and our competitive advantage is we had no competitors. I think we will see more of that; we’ve seen a lot of it over the years. We’ll see more of it.” – Warren Buffett

The Competitive Advantage of a Shareholder Base

“I would like to stress the fact that developing a shareholder base is also a differentiating factor. We genuinely view our shareholders as partners. It’s not a mantra that a public relations firm concocted for us or anything of the sort. We truly want you to achieve the same results we get, and we strive to demonstrate that in every way we can.” – Warren Buffett 

Key Takeaways

  • Stability and soundness can be a unique competitive edge, distinguishing a business from others who may favor high-risk strategies.
  • A business’s growth should be predicated on treating its subsidiaries with respect and care, mirroring how the parent company would want to be treated.
  • Being a trustworthy and reliable partner to those needing financial partnerships can be a significant competitive advantage.
  • Transitioning from highly competitive markets to more dominant sectors is a beneficial strategic shift.
  • A business’s allure for potential sellers is heightened when it provides a stable, permanent home for its companies, ensuring the continuation of operations and job security for employees.
  • Avoiding high-debt strategies, commonly used by private equity firms, is another way of distinguishing a business and securing a competitive advantage.


Understanding and harnessing the power of competitive advantage is key to business strategy. The insights from Charlie Munger offer us two vital principles. First is the importance of maintaining sanity in the chaotic business world; by avoiding unnecessary risks and focusing on stability, a company can set itself apart. Second, the embodiment of an empathetic approach towards subsidiaries, offering them the same respect and treatment that one would desire for oneself, allows for a unique competitive edge. Furthermore, strategic transitions to dominant markets and adopting a reliable partnership approach for those needing financial backing add another layer to this advantage. Lastly, ensuring a stable, secure future for companies acquired and circumventing heavy-debt tactics present a unique allure to potential business sellers. These principles highlight the significance of atypical competitive strategies in setting a business apart and ensuring its long-term success.