Sunday Briefing: On leadership, and the obscenity of private schools

Sunday Briefing: On leadership, and the obscenity of private schools

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Welcome to the Sunday Briefing newsletter where we share some of the interesting lessons in life, business, and investing that we’ve come across during the week.

What we’ve been reading

Solitude and leadership. An incredible 11-year old speech by William Deresiewicz at West Point which preaches the value leaders gain from learning to be alone with their own thoughts.

I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.

Private schools have become truly obscene. A fascinating yet disturbing piece by Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic about how wretched excess has made U.S. private school system indefensible.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item.

Company of the week

Our company of the week is Costco Wholesale Corporation.

Nick Sleep on Costco’s cost advantage that is passed on to customers:

Costco’s advantage is its very low cost base, but where does that come from? Not from low cost land, or cheap wages or any one big thing but from a thousand daily decisions to save money where it need not be spent. This saving is then returned to customers in the form of lower prices, the customer reciprocates and purchases more goods and so begins a virtuous feedback loop… It’s thousands of people caring about thousands of things a little more, perhaps, than may occur at other retailers.

And Charlie Munger:

It’s one of the most admirable capitalistic institutions in the world. And its CEO, Jim Sinegal, is one of the most admirable retailers to ever live on this planet,” he gushed. “I just can’t say enough about my admiration for Costco. More of you should look at Costco. In fact, every time Donald Trump says something and you get discouraged, you should think about Costco.​

[…] It has a frantic desire to serve customers a little better every year. When other companies find ways to save money, they turn it into profit. Sinegal passes it on to customers. It’s almost a religious duty. He’s sacrificing short-term profits for long-term success.

Quote of the week

Steve Jobs on innovation.

Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.

A thought

Wisdom means asking more questions than having answers.

Have a great coming week,
Oliver Sung

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