Exclusive Interview with Jeff Benedict, author of How to Build a Business that Warren Buffett Would Buy
By Joan Brunwasser,
In March, I had the pleasure of interviewing investigative journalist and best-selling author Jeff Benedict. He had recently published Little Pink House, about the 2005 Supreme Court case on eminent domain. We’re back, just a few short months later, to discuss How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy: The R. C. Willey Story which was also recently released. Welcome back, Jeff. It’s a pleasure to talk to you again so soon.
How did this book come about?
I was told by a mutual friend that Bill Child desired to have his company’s story told in book form. I was also told he already had a title picked out – How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy – and that Buffett had agreed to the title. So I wrote Bill a letter and introduced myself. He called two days later. We met and the rest is history.
Were you already familiar with RC Willey and Bill Child through your research for your earlier book, The Mormon Way of Doing Business?
I had never heard of R.C. Willey.
I can't get over the timeliness of this book. In a startling contrast to the many robber barons on Wall Street, here we have a couple of unpretentious business men successful, almost beyond measure, conducting themselves in a thoroughly honorable manner. What a good fit these two men are. Did you suspect this from the get-go?
I knew at the outset that Bill and Warren were good friends and formed an immediate bond.
Can you talk about their similarities a bit?
Both men are very down to earth, despite the accumulation of great wealth. The ability to maintain humility and frugality amidst money and power is rare. But these two guys have the gift. And they both have a wonderful sense of humor. Neither one takes himself too seriously.
Bill Child inherited the RC Willey Company when his father in law, (RC Willey) suddenly fell ill and died. The business was in the red, and the bank immediately advised Child and his mother-in-law to close its doors. Child had little experience and was hardly a natural businessman. Yet, he brought an unconventional wisdom to the task at hand.
One thing Bill knew was how to work hard. He had been raised on a farm. He also had a tremendous sense of honesty and integrity. So when he encountered the financial problems inherent in his father-in-law’s store, he systematically attacked them one at a time. He had the patience to plug away, little by little by doing simple things like not buying things he couldn’t pay for. Rather than trying to make his first million, he was out to establish a reputation. He ended up building a legacy that has grown over the course of 40 years.
Well, one thing your new book is not is a "how to get rich quick" manual. In fact, it took the RC Willey Company decades to be taken seriously and be courted by the big boys. Nevertheless, I predict that the book will have a wide appeal. A person running a business, or hoping to some day, can learn a lot within these pages. What do you see as the secret to this company’s success?
Rather than setting out to build a business he could sell for a big profit, RC set out to build a company to keep forever. That approach touches off an entirely different approach.
What aspect of the RC Willey story did you find most compelling?
I had a personal affinity for the early history of Rufus Call Willey. I found him to be most interesting. And the time period of the early 1900s is one that is particularly interesting to me. I loved the way he made himself into a salesman by mastering the new technology of electricity.
In many ways, this is an old-fashioned book. It stresses the importance of avoiding debt, carefully picking the right employees, planning ahead, and delivering premium customer service. There’s nothing revolutionary about that. The main characters, besides for being tremendously adept in their business dealings, seem refreshingly down to earth. Is that what makes this such a riveting story?
It certainly helps. This is a story cut from the old cloth of America. It’s amazing to realize that this story begins when most Americans were without electricity and ends with Warren Buffett, the world’s richest man, buying a company that began when a high school drop-out went from a lineman to a door-to-door salesman selling refrigerators.
RC Willey never compromised their "never [open] on Sunday" principle, despite the fact that Sunday is traditionally the biggest shopping day for home furnishings. Warren Buffett respected that business decision, but he resisted opening stores in Las Vegas, fearing that they would simply not be successful. Can you tell our readers the story of how Bill was able to overcome Warren's initial resistance?
‘Never on Sunday’ was the longstanding policy of Bill Child and the RC Willey company. It’s easy to see that working in Utah in the 1950s. It’s hard to see that approach surviving in Las Vegas in 2005. But the fact that RC Willey remains closed on Sunday in Vegas and in every other market – yet is the #1 store in those markets – is a testament to the power of sticking to one’s guns when it comes to matters of principle.
You just finished two books within a few months of one another. Most people will never write even one book. How does a writer work on more than one book at the same time?
Good question. I had most of Little Pink House complete before I started the RC Willey book. But working on multiple projects simultaneously requires a lot of discipline and organization. I approach writing very much like a job or a craft. And I love to work. So I was thrilled to have two jobs to do instead of one.
So, you’d do it again?
In a minute.
Have you at least been able to kill two birds with one stone by doing a double-book tour?
Not really. The books are entirely different. So they draw different audiences. So, I did back to back book tours. The books were released about five months apart.
What's next for you?
I’m working on a couple projects right now. Both are in the development stage.
Well, I wish you good luck with this new book, Jeff. The combination of your stellar track record and the public’s undying curiosity about Warren Buffett bodes well for your book sales.
The last question I asked Benedict was: “While writing this book, did Warren Buffett give you any business tips?” I was prepared to share that precious information with my readers. Sorry, folks. Benedict’s not talking.
How to get a copy of How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy - the RC Willey Story
Link to Jeff Benedict’s website
Author's Bio: Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which exists for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. We aim to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Electronic (computerized) voting systems are simply antithetical to democratic principles.CER set up a lending library to achieve the widespread distribution of the DVD Invisible Ballots: A temptation for electronic vote fraud. Within eighteen months, the project had distributed over 3200 copies across the country and beyond. CER now concentrates on group showings, OpEd pieces, articles, reviews, interviews, discussion sessions, networking, conferences, anything that promotes awareness of this critical problem. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005.
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