Warren Buffett goes to Hilton Head

The 1975 gathering that became known as Buffett’s ‘Hilton Head Group.’

By Laurie Laykish

Read more about Warren Buffett in the biography “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder. The Los Angeles Times wrote that it was “the most authoritative portrait of one of the most important American investors of our time.”

“Mastermind Group” is the trending term used to describe a gathering of like-minded people that come together to learn, network, share ideas and solve problems. The original concept was coined in 1925 by author Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich) and over the years, these groups have been called many things, like Think Tanks, Peer Advisory Groups or Networking Forums. But did you know that Warren Buffett had such a group called “The Hilton Head Group?”

In 1968, Warren Buffett hosted the first meeting of a group he coined the “Graham Group,” named for his one-time boss and investing mentor, Ben Graham. Bi-annually, Buffett gathered dozens of his friends and business associates for a weekend of lectures, opinion and idea-sharing as well as some fun. Over the years, locations varied from San Diego, to the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship to Vancouver, Canada. 

In late September 1975, Buffett hosted the Graham Group in Hilton Head where a few notable events occurred. Hilton Head was the first of these gatherings that included Kay Graham, CEO of the Washington Post, and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It was also the first gathering that his wife, Suzie Buffett, sang to the group after which she sang publicly, including annual Berkshire shareholder meetings. Perhaps most notably, it was immediately following this Hilton Head meeting that the Washington Post press operators union held an infamous strike, lighting the presses on fire in the basement of The Post. Fortunately, the strike happened after the Hilton Head meeting as there were no direct flights to Washington from the island, much less an airport, for Ms. Graham to return. 

It was after this “Graham Group” meeting that, for a few years, the group became known as “The Hilton Head Group” to which Warren Buffett typed a letter the following year (shown at right). 

Eventually, the group has become known as ‘The Buffett Group’, but we want Hilton Head to bask in the glory of hosting such an elite group of thinkers and philanthropists. 

The moral of the story

If the smartest, richest and busiest people in the world take time to gather to continuously learn, share ideas and share knowledge, couldn’t other business leaders? There are a number of excellent groups to join locally or you can start your own group. Just don’t call it “The Hilton Head Group” or it could get confusing.

In 1976 Warren Buffett typed this letter (yes, typed with no liquid paper) to the attendees of his 1975 meeting on Hilton Head Island.

Considerations for starting your own group 

1. Choose the right people. Choose members whose opinions you respect, whose work you admire, and whom you trust. 

2. Plan logistics. How often will you meet? Where? For how long? How many members? How are costs paid? 

3. Develop a formal agenda. Select a variety of topics that are relevant to the group and include some members in leading some discussions or presenting. 

4. Make it fun. While learning and networking is the purpose of the gathering, participants will be more engaged and more likely to return if they have fun.

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