Top negotiators, the billionaires and the top leaders:

1) Warren Buffett

Nicknamed “the Oracle of Ohama”, Warren Buffett is among the most successful investors in recent history.

He led his holding company Berkshire Hathaway from a textile firm with $120 million in revenue to one of the largest public companies in the world. His way of negotiating deals offers great insights that will help us become better negotiators.

In 1962, Mr Buffett began buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway after noticing a pattern in the price direction of its stock whenever the company closed a mill. In 1964, he received an offer of $11 1⁄2 per share from the company to buy back his shares. Mr Buffett agreed to the deal and a few weeks later, the offer was changed to $11 3⁄8 without the courtesy of an advance notice. This lower offer made him angry. Instead of selling his shares, he decided to buy more of the stock to take control of the company.

In business negotiating, Buffett emphasises the importance of patience and taking a long-term view if you want a really good deal.

For example, he has been Coca-Cola’s largest single shareholder since the 1980s.

When asked during at a Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting about the key factor he looks for before investing , he replied: “It would tend to be a business that for one reason or another we can look out five or 10 or 20 years, and decide that the competitive advantage that it had at the present would last over that period. These companies have long-term strategies, generate sustainable profits, re-invest in their growth, and offer investors more dividends.”

Mr Buffett is also very cautious when it comes to committing to new investee companies. It is probably his best tactic when negotiating. Companies looking for his money know he can walk away at any time if the proposal isn’t compelling enough. It is also a well-known fact that he does not bargain.

Compared to most business negotiators, Warren Buffett usually does comprehensive due diligence on the company, its management team, its markets, competitors and future plans. With a strong grasp of the situation, he wields tremendous information power when he negotiates.


2) Yuri Milner

One of the world’s most famous technology investors, Yuri Milner is a Russian Jew who has invested in Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, Spotify, Zynga, Alibaba and other fast-moving technology companies. He is widely regarded as the world’s most successful investor in social media, with current and past investments in major social media assets in various countries. His father was a former university professor of American management and his mother was a physician.

Yuri’s company DST Global is his main investing vehicle. Formerly known as Digital Sky Technologies, DST Global Moscow office operates on a 24 x 7 basis, like a CNN newsroom. Yuri himself travels the world extensively , operating across different time zones. As a negotiator, he is hardworking, analytical and risk-averse. During his waking hours, he would work 90% of the time.

Yuri is a great believer in ” first-mover advantage” and “category leaders” and he targets investee companies unsolicited if necessary. In the case of Facebook, he called Facebook CFO Gideon Yu several times to secure a meeting. His negotiating style is competitive but responsive to the real interests of the other party. For Facebook, he proposed a game-changing deal quite different from Silicon Valley practices – an investment with no corporate preferences and no board seats! In the process he was even able to negotiate with Goldman Sachs to share their fees with him.

Yuri Milner is a physics graduate of the prestigious Moscow State University. He got his seed capital from a successful private equity investment in a big macaroni factory in Russia.


3) Professor Tommy Koh

He was honoured by Harvard University with the Great Negotiator Award in 2014 for his various high-profile negotiating roles over five decades of public service. He was Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Singapore’s Ambassador to United States, President of the Third UN Conference on Law of the Sea, Chairman of Preparatory Committee and Main Committee, UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) and also as Special Envoy of UN to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Russian Federation. In particular, Professor Tommy Koh was the Chief Negotiator for the landmark 2003 United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement – with 21 chapters and over 1400 pages.

In an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, he said: ” Negotiation is both an art and a science. It is a science because it is possible to identify the characteristics of a good negotiator. It is also possible to identify the techniques and practices in the tool kit of a good negotiator. Negotiation can be taught. Negotiation is also an art because a good negotiator should also have high emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence. There is increasing recognition of the fact that we think both with our heads and our hearts. To succeed in a negotiation, we should aim to connect with our negotiating partner cognitively, emotionally and culturally”

Professor Tommy Koh is a graduate of Harvard University, Cambridge University and University of Malaya.