Mitch Fox/The Hoya Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Warren Buffett advised a student audience in Gaston Hall Thursday afternoon on success and ethics in the business world.

Thirty-five billion dollars in personal net worth took the stage in Gaston Hall yesterday and told Georgetown’s MBA students that money is not the only way to measure success. “You can forget any formula I tell you about stocks,” Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett said. “You will be a successful person if your kids, your spouse, your grandchildren . respect you.”

Buffett, 72, said that he has long-term confidence in the American economy. “America is a sensational field on which to be playing.” He also said that investing decisions should be made based on the long-term prospects of the company, not the short-term prospects of the stock market. “I never made any money thinking about the economy,” he said.

“I’m looking for answers to business questions, not market questions,” he said, adding that a test of whether an investment is good or not is whether an investor would want to hold a stock if the market closed for three years.

Buffett opened his remarks to an MBA student-only crowd of approximately 400 people by saying that he would “offer one tiny bit of advice and then shut up about it” before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

Berkshire Hathaway, the company Buffett runs, is comprised of numerous subsidiaries, including well-known companies like Dairy Queen, Benjamin Moore, GEICO Insurance and Fruit of the Loom. It is currently listed at No. 39 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest American companies.

Buffett is considered by many financial observers to be one of the most important figures in the American economy, and he has been compared to the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the president of the United States in his influence on securities markets.

In his remarks, Buffett emphasized the principles of long-term investment. “The important thing is to keep playing, to play against weak opponents and to play for big stakes,” he said.

He also stressed that he only purchases businesses he understands, and then only if they have what he called “a durable competitive advantage” and are run by people he trusts. “I don’t work with people I don’t like,” he said.

Buffett said that he does not follow market trends, and that his strategy is not to have a strategy at all. “Not only do we not have a strategic department [at Berkshire], we don’t have a strategy,” he said. He also noted that Berkshire does not employ an economist, “and if we buy a business that has one, he’s gone.”

When asked what qualities he looks for when hiring, he said he seeks candidates with intelligence, energy and character, but that character is the most important.

Buffett also addressed several issues related to the recent corporate corruption scandals at firms such as Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Arthur Andersen and Adelphia. “I think a lot of decent people slipped,” Buffett said. He said that the best source of guidance on issues of ethics is the Bible. “The best advice on corporate governance is in Luke 16:2,” Buffett said. Chapter 16, verse two of Luke is a parable in which a landlord asks his manager to “give an account of thy stewardship, for though mayest be no longer steward.”

Buffett said that he tells his employees to follow the “front-page test” when faced with ethical dilemmas. If employees wouldn’t want to see their action on the front page of the local newspaper, they shouldn’t take that action, Buffett said.

Buffett also restated his belief that corporate options should be accounted for as expenses, a position that gained him notoriety this summer amid criticisms of modern accounting practices. “If a payment to an employee isn’t compensation, what is it? And if compensation isn’t an expense, what is it? And if the expenses don’t belong on the income statement, where do they belong?” he asked. Only two Fortune 500 companies currently consider stock options expenses.

Asked if he would change anything in his life, the multi-billionaire said that he “wouldn’t change anything, except to be a lot younger.” Noting that he was born in America to two intelligent parents, Buffett said “I won the ovarian lottery.”

He said he went into business because he only had two interests when he was growing up, “but I wasn’t very good with girls, so I had to move on to my second interest.”

Over the last five years, Berkshire Hathaway has posted average earnings per share of approximately $1,500. The company’s assets are valued at more than $162 billion, with a market capitalization of more than $112 billion.

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