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The one question Warren Buffett always asks before investing

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Thomas Tull, CEO of Tulco, tells Andy Serwer about the one time he spent two hours with Warren Buffett.

Video Transcript

- What are the companies that you've been looking at, investing in, and what are the areas that you think are most productive for you guys to venture into?

THOMAS TULL: Well, we're in a number of sectors. We're in insurance with Acrisure. They're one of the largest brokers in the world. And the idea was to use our artificial intelligence algorithms that we've developed over the past couple of years and to apply that to their entire platform. So we're very excited about that. It's obviously a large sector and something that we think has some room to grow in terms of the way we look at it and what the broker of the future is going to look like.

We are in a company called Figs, which is a health care workwear company run by two brilliant women who've done an amazing job of growing that company. And obviously, over this past year, I think all of us have taken a moment to think about how incredibly important the health care sector is and the workers there on the frontline each and every day. So that's a company we're really proud of.

We're an investor in a company called RoadRunner, which is in the waste management business and recycling that uses a very interesting business model. We're in the security business with Edgeworth, who uses artificial intelligence to do anomaly detection through camera systems, and a few others. So it's diverse, but it's worked well for us.

- Is it kind of like Berkshire Hathaway?

THOMAS TULL: Oh, my goodness. Well, you just named-- I mean, in structure. And Marty Willhite, who's the vice chairman, was formerly at Munger Tolles and worked with that group. Certainly, I would never put anything in the same paragraph with Mr. Munger and Mr. Buffett. But just to me, what I like about it is it's not a fund. It's permanent capital. It allows us maximum flexibility on what to do with the companies, make sure they have the capital that they need, certainly providing hopefully some business acumen, and then the tech side. But it just allows us a lot of flexibility. We don't have pressures on vintage year funds or anything like that, and let them grow at the pace they need to grow at.

- Right. So I can see that it's not private equity per se or venture, anything like that. Permanent capital. I get it. Have you talked to Warren or Charlie about business at all ever, Thomas?

THOMAS TULL: Yeah, I had the privilege of sitting with Warren for almost two hours in his office in Omaha, which was beyond a privilege. It's something I'll treasure for the rest of my life. And there was a moment-- I don't think he'd might be sharing this-- where I was describing and talking through the business model and how I thought about something. And I said, what we're trying to do is to be smart about it. And he stopped me and he goes, I got to be honest.

For years, Charlie and I have always asked, what's the dumb thing we could do here? And I kind of laughed, and he said, no, I'm dead serious. We always ask-- we don't want to be in the clever pile-- what can we do here that would be the dumb thing, and how do we avoid it? Honestly, it actually has had a fair amount of impact on the way that I assess and think about situations. And he's incredibly sharp. And it's something, again, that time I'll treasure forever.