Photo: USA International Trade Administration / Public domain
Born: August 30, 1930
Age: 89 years
Born Place: Omaha, Nebraska, United States
Education: Columbia Business School (1950–1951)
Occupation: Businessman, investor, philanthropist
Education: University of Pennsylvania
University of Nebraska–Lincoln (BS)
Columbia University (MS)
Spouse: Susan Thompson (m. 1952; died 2004) || Astrid Menks (m. 2006)
Warren Edward Buffett (born August 30, 1930) is an American investor, business tycoon, and philanthropist, who is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is considered one of the most successful investors in the world and has a net worth of US$71.8 billion as of July 2020, making him the fourth-wealthiest person in the world.
Buffett was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He developed an interest in business and investing in his youth, eventually entering the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1947 before transferring and graduating from the University of Nebraska at the age of 19. He went on to graduate from Columbia Business School, where he molded his investment philosophy around the concept of value investing that was pioneered by Benjamin Graham. He attended New York Institute of Finance to focus his economics background and soon after began various business partnerships, including one with Graham. He created Buffett Partnership, Ltd in 1956 and his firm eventually acquired a textile manufacturing firm called Berkshire Hathaway, assuming its name to create a diversified holding company. In 1978, Charlie Munger joined Buffett and became vice-chairman of the company.
Buffett has been the chairman and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway since 1970. He has been referred to as the “Oracle” or “Sage” of Omaha by global media outlets. He is noted for his adherence to value investing and for his personal frugality despite his immense wealth. Research published at the University of Oxford characterizes Buffett’s investment methodology as falling within “founder centrism” – defined by a deference to managers with a founder’s mindset, an ethical disposition towards the shareholder collective, and an intense focus on exponential value creation. Essentially, Buffett’s concentrated investments shelter managers from the short-term pressures of the market.
Buffett is a notable philanthropist, having pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune to philanthropic causes, primarily via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He founded The Giving Pledge in 2009 with Bill Gates, whereby billionaires pledge to give away at least half of their fortunes.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Buffett was born in 1930 in Omaha, Nebraska, the second of three children and the only son of Leila (née Stahl) and Congressman Howard Buffett. Buffett began his education at Rose Hill Elementary School. In 1942, his father was elected to the first of four terms in the United States Congress, and after moving with his family to Washington, D.C., Warren finished elementary school, attended Alice Deal Junior High School and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1947, where his senior yearbook picture reads: “likes math; a future stockbroker.” After finishing high school and finding success with his side entrepreneurial and investment ventures, Buffett wanted to skip college to go directly into business but was overruled by his father.
Buffett displayed an interest in business and investing at a young age. He was inspired by a book he borrowed from the Omaha public library at the age of seven, One Thousand Ways to Make $1000. Much of Buffett’s early childhood years were enlivened with entrepreneurial ventures. In one of his first business ventures, Buffett sold chewing gum, Coca-Cola bottles, and weekly magazines door to door. He worked in his grandfather’s grocery store. While still in high school, he made money delivering newspapers, selling golf balls and stamps, and detailing cars, among other means. On his first income tax return in 1944, Buffett took a $35 deduction for the use of his bicycle and watch on his paper route. In 1945, as a high school sophomore, Buffett and a friend spent $25 to purchase a used pinball machine, which they placed in the local barber shop. Within months, they owned several machines in three different barber shops across Omaha. The business was sold later in the year for $1,200 to a war veteran.
Buffett’s interest in the stock market and investing dated to schoolboy days he spent in the customers’ lounge of a regional stock brokerage near his father’s own brokerage office. On a trip to New York City at age ten, he made a point to visit the New York Stock Exchange. At 11, he bought three shares of Cities Service Preferred for himself, and three for his philanthropic sister Doris Buffett. At the age of 15, Warren made more than $175 monthly delivering Washington Post newspapers. In high school, he invested in a business owned by his father and bought a 40-acre farm worked by a tenant farmer. He bought the land when he was 14 years old with $1,200 of his savings. By the time he finished college, Buffett had accumulated $9,800 in savings (about $105,000 today).
In 1947, Buffett entered the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He would have preferred to focus on his business ventures, but his father pressured him to enroll. Warren studied there for two years and joined the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska where at 19, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. After being rejected by Harvard Business School, Buffett enrolled at Columbia Business School of Columbia University upon learning that Benjamin Graham taught there. He earned a Master of Science in Economics from Columbia in 1951. After graduating, Buffett attended the New York Institute of Finance.
In 1949, Buffett was infatuated with a young woman whose boyfriend had a ukulele. In an attempt to compete, he bought one of the diminutive instruments and has been playing it ever since. Though the attempt was unsuccessful, his music interest was a key part of his becoming a part of Susan Thompson’s life and led to their marriage. Buffett often plays the instrument at stockholder meetings and other opportunities. His love of the instrument led to the commissioning of two custom Dairy Queen ukuleles by Dave Talsma, one of which was auctioned for charity.
Buffett married Susan Buffett (born Thompson) in 1952. They had three children, Susie, Howard and Peter. The couple began living separately in 1977, although they remained married until Susan Buffett’s death in July 2004. Their daughter, Susie, lives in Omaha, is a national board member of Girls, Inc., and does charitable work through the Susan A. Buffett Foundation.
In 2006, on his 76th birthday, Buffett married his longtime companion, Astrid Menks, who was then 60 years old—she had lived with him since his wife’s departure to San Francisco in 1977. Susan had arranged for the two to meet before she left Omaha to pursue her singing career. All three were close and Christmas cards to friends were signed “Warren, Susie and Astrid”. Susan briefly discussed this relationship in an interview on the Charlie Rose Show shortly before her death, in a rare glimpse into Buffett’s personal life.
Buffett disowned his son Peter’s adopted daughter, Nicole, in 2006 after she participated in the Jamie Johnson documentary The One Percent about the growing economic inequality between the wealthy and the average citizen in the United States. Although his first wife referred to Nicole as one of her “adored grandchildren”, Buffett wrote her a letter stating, “I have not emotionally or legally adopted you as a grandchild, nor have the rest of my family adopted you as a niece or a cousin.”
His 2006 annual salary was about $100,000, which is small compared to senior executive remuneration in comparable companies. In 2008, he earned a total compensation of $175,000, which included a base salary of just $100,000. He continued to live in the same house in the central Dundee neighborhood of Omaha that he bought in 1958 for $31,500, a fraction of today’s value. He also owns a $4 million house in Laguna Beach, California. In 1989, after spending nearly $6.7 million of Berkshire’s funds on a private jet, Buffett named it “The Indefensible”. This act was a break from his past condemnation of extravagant purchases by other CEOs and his history of using more public transportation.
Buffett is an avid bridge player, which he plays with fellow fan Gates —he allegedly spends 12 hours a week playing the game. In 2006, he sponsored a bridge match for the Buffett Cup. Modeled on the Ryder Cup in golf—held immediately before it in the same city—the teams are chosen by invitation, with a female team and five male teams provided by each country.
He is a dedicated, lifelong follower of Nebraska football, and attends as many games as his schedule permits. He supported the hire of Bo Pelini, following the 2007 season, stating, “It was getting kind of desperate around here”. He watched the 2009 game against Oklahoma from the Nebraska sideline, after being named an honorary assistant coach.
Buffett worked with Christopher Webber on an animated series called “Secret Millionaires Club” with chief Andy Heyward of DiC Entertainment. The series features Buffett and Munger and teaches children healthy financial habits.
Buffett was raised as a Presbyterian, but has since described himself as agnostic. In December 2006, it was reported that Buffett did not carry a mobile phone, did not have a computer at his desk, and drove his own automobile, a Cadillac DTS. In contrast to that, at the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting, he stated he uses Google as his preferred search engine. In 2013 he had an old Nokia flip phone and had sent one email in his entire life. In February 2020, Buffett revealed in a CNBC interview that he had traded in his flip phone for an iPhone 11. Buffett reads five newspapers every day, beginning with the Omaha World Herald, which his company acquired in 2011.
Buffett’s speeches are known for mixing business discussions with humor. Each year, Buffett presides over Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska, an event drawing over 20,000 visitors from both the United States and abroad, giving it the nickname “Woodstock of Capitalism”. Berkshire’s annual reports and letters to shareholders, prepared by Buffett, frequently receive coverage by the financial media. Buffett’s writings are known for containing quotations from sources as varied as the Bible and Mae West, as well as advice in a folksy, Midwestern style and numerous jokes.
In April 2017, Buffett (an avid Coca-Cola drinker and shareholder in the company) agreed to have his likeness placed on Cherry Coke products in China. Buffett was not compensated for this advertisement.
On April 11, 2012, Buffett was diagnosed with stage I prostate cancer during a routine test. He announced he would begin two months of daily radiation treatment from mid-July. In a letter to shareholders, Buffett said he felt “great – as if I were in my normal excellent health – and my energy level is 100 percent.” On September 15, 2012, Buffett announced that he had completed the full 44-day radiation treatment cycle, saying “it’s a great day for me” and “I am so glad to say that’s over.”