Career Advice from Mohnish Pabrai – Two Men by the Sea

To continue our unplanned series on Mohnish Pabrai, we thought we would share one of our favorite pieces of career advice that he gave at the end of a (virtual) talk at Boston College. The talk is worth watching but in case you decide not to, here is that final question transcript.

Any advice [for students] as they think about their career?

Mohnish Pabrai:

Because I’m a cloner, I would just clone the advice that Warren or Charlie would give you, which is to focus on going to work for people you like, admire and trust. If you unpack what Warren says about “like, admire and trust”, note that he does not say what the compensation is, or what the company is, whether it is a blue chip or start-up. It is about the people. You have to work for, and with, people that you would truly enjoy working with if you were not getting paid. I think that should be the criteria.

The second thing that Warren says is, don’t put things off. It’s like saving sex for old age. Not a good idea. Don’t say “I’m going to work for 3 years at Goldman Sachs, then I’m going to get my MBA, then I’m going to do X for 3-4 years, then I’m going to start a fund, and then this and then that.” I’m going to tell you the story of this very stressed-out investment banker.

There’s this guy in New York who’s an investment banker, working 100+ hours a week. He’s totally burned out. And of course, he’s making a lot of money. But he is stressed out beyond belief. So he does some research and finds this little tiny Mexican fishing village, which is in a very remote part of Mexico. There’s a small one-room resort there, and he would be the only guest there, so there will be no one around for miles. He says, “That’s the place for me.”

He goes over and books himself for a week, and recuperate from the New York life. In his first morning there, he gets up and notices there is a hut across the beach with one Mexican guy living there.

The investment banker watches this Mexican guy pull out a small canoe and he takes it out in the ocean, then he’s gone for an hour, or hour and a half, and he comes back with two fish. Then he makes a little fire and cooks one fish, which is his lunch. Then he takes a nap, wakes up in the evening, then cooks the second fish and that’s his dinner. Then he just hangs out at his hut and goes to sleep.

Then the next morning, the banker notices again that the Mexican guy wakes up, gets his boat, goes to the ocean, gets the two fish, comes back, cooks one fish, takes a nap, then cooks the second fish. After 3 days, the banker can’t take it anymore.

So the banker goes and talks to the Mexican fisherman.

Banker: When you go out to the ocean, can you catch more than two fish?

Fisherman: Well yeah, the ocean is full of fish. I can catch a lot more fish.

Banker: Why don’t you catch more than two fish?

Fisherman: I only need two fish, why would I need to catch more than two?

Banker: Look, if you catch more than two fish, then you would have some extra fish that you can sell in the market.

Fisherman: And then what?

Banker: Then you’d have some money, and as you keep getting more fish and more money, then you can get a second boat and hire a guy to fish as well. That other guy will catch more fish too. Now you’ll have even more fish to sell, even after you pay the other guy.

Fisherman: And then what?

Banker: We can keep doing that, because soon we’ll have a fleet. But then we’ll also vertically integrate, because instead of just selling fish into the market, we’ll set up a canning operation, and we’re not going to let those scumbags take all the margin by doing the canning, so we will. And we’re in this great part of the country and so we’ll create this great brand, market it as organic, and then sell it all over the world.

Fisherman: And then what?

Banker: Then I’m going to take you public, and I’m your guy to do the IPO. You’ll have lots of money and a great life!

Fisherman: And then what?

Banker: Then when you want to take a vacation, you can come here and hang out!

And the fisherman just looks at him.