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The acquisition of Nebraska Furniture Mart led Buffett to another successful furniture acquisition Berkshire acquired the ve-store RC Willey Home Furnishings in 1995 The number of stores has since grown steadily and reached 15 by 2008 Nebraska Furniture Mart s Irv Blumkin was the main person behind this acquisition Buffett writes, It was Nebraska Furniture Mart s Irv Blumkin who did the walking around in the case of RC Willey, long the leading home furnishings business in Utah Over the years, Irv had told me about the strengths of that company And he had also told Bill Child, CEO of RC Willey, how pleased the Blumkin family had been with its Berkshire relationship 6 RC Willey s history also tells us something about its likely future success From a small business with sales of $250,000 in 1954, CEO Bill Child built it into a $257 million revenue establishment As I discussed in the previous chapter, Buffett respects independence In the case of Nebraska Furniture Mart and RC Willey, he said that, like the CEOs of other businesses, the managers of these two businesses would operate autonomously The philosophy behind this worth repeating many times over is that it is easier to handle a large number of competent managers if they are given independence If competent managers are not given independence, they are likely to leave Buffett writes, If I have one person reporting to me and he is a lemon, that s one too many, and if I have managers like those we now have, the number can be almost unlimited 7
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The Nebraska Furniture Mart and RC Willey stories continued to unfold as Berkshire Hathaway acquired Star Furniture in 1997 When Buffett asked RC Willey s CEO about furniture industry standouts, one of the names he gave was Star Furniture, a ve-store retailer Several years later, Star Furniture became available, and Buffett appeared happy to acquire it As was the case with Blumkins and Bill Child, I had no need to check leases, work out employment contracts, etc I knew I was dealing with a man of integrity and that s what counted 8 Of course, in
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addition to excellent management, Buffett saw opportunity for growth And the company has grown steadily ever since In 2009, there were 10 Star Furniture stores Excellent managers contribute not only through the superior profitability of their businesses but also through their ideas They become extra voices who can advise you on how to do business within their eld And Buffett listens to them The idea to purchase Jordan s Furniture also came from the managers of other furniture stores that Berkshire already owned Buffett explains how he came across Jordan s Furniture: I have persistently asked the Blumkins, Bill Child, and Melvyn Wolff whether there are any more out there like you Their invariable answer was the Tatelman brothers of New England and their remarkable furniture business, Jordan s 9 In the case of Jordan s, the company not only sells furniture; it also presents customers with a dazzling entertainment experience called shoppertainment Parents can go to Jordan s and simultaneously nd a new ottoman and take their kids out for an afternoon of fun Are we likely to see innovations from one unit, say, Jordan s, transferred to the other units As we know, Buffett does not interfere in the day-to-day management of the various subsidiaries, but he does provide all possible opportunities for interaction As long as managers have incentives to improve pro tability, they will adopt the innovations that are suitable to them but avoid the ones that are not This is more ef cient than requiring all the furniture stores to adopt practices that have been successful for one of them
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