Friday, July 25, 2014

The secretive billionaire who built Silicon Valley

Link to article: The secretive billionaire who built Silicon Valley
How John Arrillaga Sr. transformed California fruit orchards into high-priced office space for the likes of Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco.

I knew Charlie Munger had mentioned Arrillaga somewhere. It appears it was at the 2006 Wesco Meeting (the excerpt below is from page 36 of THIS compilation...and it's in the context of Munger  warning that at that time in 2006, "...every asset class I see is priced on a fairly rich basis."):
Let me give you a different example, a different construct. I know a man, John Arrillaga, who was a star athlete at Stanford in a different generation. He got out of Stanford and started building little buildings around Stanford. He kept doing it and was good at it and of course there was no better market. In due time, he and his family had 15 million square feet, and the rents had gone up and up and up.

The interesting thing was that instead of doing the normal thing real estate developers do, which is borrow, borrow, borrow, so that money earned goes up and up and up, John gradually paid off 100% of the debt on his buildings so that when the great Silicon Valley crash hit and three million square feet of his buildings went vacant, it was a total non-event – and, in fact, he could start buying buildings from others [who were distressed]. He now likes to build buildings for Stanford – and doesn’t take any compensation for it; he takes a loss. This has been a wonderful thing.

Here’s a man who deliberately took some risk out of his life. He has no regrets in his life. He was damn glad. I think there’s a lot to be said when the world is going a little crazy around you, to at least put yourself in a position that if something really unpleasant happens, that it might be unpleasant but will be a non-event in terms of changing your life. We all might consider imitating John Arrillaga as things get crazier and crazier.