Warren Edward Buffett (/ˈbʌfᵻt/; born August 30, 1930) is an American business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He is considered by some to be one of the most successful investors in the world. Buffett is the chairman, CEO and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, and is consistently ranked among the world’s wealthiest people. He was ranked as the world’s wealthiest person in 2008 and as the second wealthiest in 2016. In 2012 Time named Buffett one of the world’s most influential people.
Buffett is often referred to as the “Wizard of Omaha”, “Oracle of Omaha, or the “Sage of Omaha,”and is noted for his adherence to value investing and for his personal frugality despite his immense wealth. Buffett is a notable philanthropist, having pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune to philanthropic causes, primarily via the Gates Foundation. On April 11, 2012, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which his doctors successfully completed treatment in September 2012. Buffett is also active in contributing to political causes, having endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for president during the 2016 campaign season. In February 2013, Buffett was the key player in a $28 billion bid to buy the food manufacturer Heinz.
Buffett was born in 1930 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was 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. Much of Buffett’s early childhood years were enlivened with entrepreneurial ventures. One of his first business ventures, Buffett sold chewing gum, Coca-Cola bottles, or 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 sister Doris Buffett (founder of The Sunshine Lady Foundation). 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 more than $90,000 in savings measured in 2009 dollars.
In 1947, Buffett entered the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He would have preferred to focus on his business ventures; however, he enrolled due to pressure from his father.Warren studied there for two years and joined the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln 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.
The basic ideas of investing are to look at stocks as business, use the market’s fluctuations to your advantage, and seek a margin of safety. That’s what Ben Graham taught us. A hundred years from now they will still be the cornerstones of investing.
— Warren Buffett
See also: List of assets owned by Berkshire Hathaway
Buffett worked from 1951 to 1954 at Buffett-Falk & Co. as an investment salesman; from 1954 to 1956 at Graham-Newman Corp. as a securities analyst; from 1956 to 1969 at Buffett Partnership, Ltd. as a general partner and from 1970, as Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
By 1950, at 20, Buffett had made and saved $9,800 (over $96,000 inflation adjusted for the 2014 USD). In April 1952, Buffett discovered that Graham was on the board of GEICO insurance. Taking a train to Washington, D.C. on a Saturday, he knocked on the door of GEICO’s headquarters until a janitor admitted him. There he met Lorimer Davidson, Geico’s Vice President, and the two discussed the insurance business for hours. Davidson would eventually become Buffett’s lifelong friend and a lasting influence,and would later recall that he found Buffett to be an “extraordinary man” after only fifteen minutes. Buffett wanted to work on Wall Street; however, both his father and Ben Graham urged him not to. He offered to work for Graham for free, but Graham refused.
Buffett returned to Omaha and worked as a stockbroker while taking a Dale Carnegie public speaking course. Using what he learned, he felt confident enough to teach an “Investment Principles” night class at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The average age of his students was more than twice his own. During this time he also purchased a Sinclair Texaco gas station as a side investment. However, this was not successful.
In 1952,Buffett married Susan Thompson at Dundee Presbyterian Church. The next year they had their first child, Susan Alice. In 1954, Buffett accepted a job at Benjamin Graham’s partnership. His starting salary was $12,000 a year (approximately $105,000 inflation adjusted for the 2012 USD). There he worked closely with Walter Schloss. Graham was a tough boss. He was adamant that stocks provide a wide margin of safety after weighing the trade-off between their price and their intrinsic value. The argument made sense to Buffett but he questioned whether the criteria were too stringent and caused the company to miss out on big winners that had other appealing features. That same year the Buffetts had their second child, Howard Graham. In 1956, Benjamin Graham retired and closed his partnership. At this time Buffett’s personal savings were over $174,000 ($1.47 million 2012 USD) and he started Buffett Partnership Ltd..
Buffett’s home in Omaha
In 1957, Buffett operated three partnerships. He purchased a five-bedroom stucco house in Omaha, where he still lives, for $31,500. In 1958 the Buffetts’ third child, Peter Andrew, was born. Buffett operated five partnerships that year. In 1959, the company grew to six partnerships and Buffett met future partner Charlie Munger. By 1960, Buffett operated seven partnerships. He asked one of his partners, a doctor, to find ten other doctors willing to invest $10,000 each in his partnership. Eventually eleven agreed, and Buffett pooled their money with a mere $100 original investment of his own. In 1961, Buffett revealed that Sanborn Map Company accounted for 35% of the partnership’s assets. He explained that in 1958 Sanborn stock sold at only $45 per share when the value of the Sanborn investment portfolio was $65 per share.This meant that buyers valued Sanborn stock at “minus $20” per share and were unwilling to pay more than 70 cents on the dollar for an investment portfolio with a map business thrown in for nothing which earned him a spot on Sanborn’s board.
In 1949, Buffett was infatuated by a young woman whose current 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 stock holder 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 (née 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. 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 US$100,000, which is small compared to senior executive remuneration in comparable companies. In 2007 and 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.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 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.
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 does not carry a mobile phone, does not have a computer at his desk, and drives his own automobile, a Cadillac DTS. In 2013 he had an old Nokia flip phone and had sent one email in his entire life.Buffett reads five newspapers every day, beginning with the Omaha World Herald, which his company acquired in 2011.
A September 2014 Fast Company article featured Buffett’s “avoid at all cost” practice, used to prioritize personal goals. Buffett advises people to first create a list of the top 25 accomplishments that they would like to complete over the next few years of their life, and to then pick the five most-important list items. Buffett stated that people need to “avoid at all cost” the initial, longer list, as it would hinder the achievement of the top-five.