While I was in high school, my Grandpa David Calder wrote me letters. The prospect of receiving a letter from him motivated me to pick up the mail on my way home from school. Grandpa Dave’s letters frequently included a kind message and a chess puzzle that he had cut out of the local newspaper, gently challenging me to work on a chess problem.
My Grandma Clara Calder preferred to focus on persuasive writing. Grandma Clara wrote letters to politicians from local government officials to US Presidents. She wrote in support of the civil rights movement and workers rights too. In high school, I vehemently opposed the war in Iraq, and she encouraged me to write to my congressman and ask him to support an immediate end to the war. Chris responded to my letter below.
In most respects, I find letter writing far superior to email. Because letters are more costly to create, we are likely to receive fewer letters than emails, making each letter we receive feel special. While traveling, I enjoy sending postcards to my friends, family, and colleagues; I hope they continue to write to me too.
Sending a well-written letter vastly increases the probability of receiving a response relative to other alternatives. While job hunting in 2013, my boss Ryan Tie told me to write to the portfolio managers of the endowment funds that I wanted to work for and explain: who I am, why I want to work for them, my comparative advantage, and offer to come in any time for an interview. Remarkably, I wrote five letters and received two responses. Relative to any other job search method, letter writing had the highest return on time.
Recently, I tried my luck at corresponding with one of my heroes. Each year, Warren Buffett, the Chairman, and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway encourages his shareholders to write him a letter if they have an idea for an acquisition. Earlier this year, I had an idea that seemed like a promising acquisition candidate: a sizeable world-class company, trading for a bit less than $0.65 on the $1.00, and would likely add strategic value to Berkshire. I told my boss Trevor Graham about the idea, and he thought it was brilliant (his words) and so we wrote a letter to Mr. Buffett together. After several drafts, we settled on a message, signed it and sent it to Omaha via two-day FedEx on a Wednesday afternoon. Two days later on Friday morning, much to my surprise, I received an intriguing response from Mr. Buffett. The letter still sits on my desk and motivates me to remain observant in the capital markets.
My grandparents taught me that writing letters could help you build friendships and influence people. My experience on the job market taught me that well-written letters can create job opportunities. Writing to and receiving a letter from Mr. Buffett taught me that even the wealthiest and oldest people in the world spend part of their morning reading and responding to thoughtful letters. At the very least, I encourage you to write to someone you care about a letter today.