Mrs B

”Put her up against the top graduates of the top business schools or chief executives of the Fortune 500 and, assuming an even start with the same resources, she’d run rings around them” – Warren Buffett

Standing less than 5 feet in her prime, Mrs B or Rose Blumkin was born in Belarus in 1893 and migrated to the US when she was in in her early 20s with her husband without knowing a word in English. She decided to come to Omaha just because there was a community of Russian-speaking residents in the city. She absorbed her broken English from her children who went to study at American schools. She founded Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1937 with $500 borrowed from her brother. At one point, she had to sell their own home furniture to pay off debt.

Mrs B differentiated her store from competitors by undercutting them in prices. The bigger competitors tried to pressurize the suppliers into not selling her, but that didn’t deter the fearless woman. She went around the country to find other suppliers and continued her strategy. According to Warren Buffett, she went to court 4 times to defend herself and her business tactics, and won.

In 1983, at the age of 89 and after putting in 70-hour workweeks for years, she sold 80% of her business to Warren Buffett in a hand-shake deal without any lawyers or auditors present. The decision to sell was to prevent domestic conflict among her children. She continued to work at Nebraska Furniture Mart till she was 95 when her family forced her into retirement. Three months after she was forced into retirement, she opened another store across the street called “Mrs B’s Clearance and Factory Outlet”. Two years later, it was profitable and the 3rdlargest carpet outlet in Omaha. Warren Buffett bought the company and merged it into Nebraska Furniture Mart. The family rift was repaired. Mrs B continued to work till she was 103. One year later, she passed away at 104.

If that’s not impressive enough, Mrs B couldn’t read or write. She did all that while raising 4 children. She never read balance sheet or understood accounting. She understood her business and customers remarkably, though. Mrs B

Mrs B used her scooter to move around during her working hours (Source: businessinsider)

Quotes:

  • Her own: ”Sell cheap, tell the truth, don’t cheat nobody.”
  • “If they absorb Mrs. B’s lessons, they need none from me” – Warren Buffett
  • “I would rather have her word than that of all the Big 8 auditors” – Warren Buffett

Sometimes, we all may just need an inspiring example to see if something is possible.

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