By his own assessment, these are good days for Warren Buffett, the iconic investor and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
At 91 years of age, the “Oracle of Omaha” was recently ranked the 5th-richest person in the world with a net worth just north of $125 billion. Investing since age 11, Buffett still loves what he does and remains fully engaged in day-to-day operations just ahead of his company’s highly anticipated annual shareholder’s meeting on April 30th. He is the “E.F. Hutton” of his day – when Buffett speaks, the markets listen.
Yet in so many ways, he appears very much the “every man.” Though now widowed, he still lives in the same house he and his wife bought in 1958, eats McDonald’s for breakfast, has burgers and blizzards at Dairy Queen (which he owns) and drinks bottles of Coca-Cola Classic (another company he’s heavily invested in) each day. He doesn’t exercise, likening his body to an antique car, i.e. the fewer miles you drive it, the longer it will remain on the road.
In an increasingly global economy, Buffett is also a perennial optimist when it comes to all things American, believing our country’s best days are to come. He happily put his money where his mouth is, investing in domestic-based juggernauts. In addition to Coke and Dairy Queen, Buffett owns Geico insurance, Benjamin Moore paint, Duracell batteries and Fruit of the Loom underwear. He says if he’s going to buy stock in a company, he has to understand how it works.
“You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will,” he quips.
A creature of habit and a man comfortable in his own skin, he’s quick to say “no” to invitations, abhors most meetings, and prefers to spend upwards of five to six hours each day reading in his office. He knows what he likes, what he doesn’t – and believes it’s this discipline and uninterrupted hours of reading and thinking that have contributed to his wild success.
Due to such self-imposed limitations on his time, Warren Buffett does very few interviews but has regularly made an exception for his friend Charlie Rose. The one-time popular PBS host has been off the air for the last four years after being accused of sexual harassment. But just last week, Rose broke his silence and Buffett did, too – sitting down together for a fascinating hour-plus exchange.
Buffett is a font of pithy and practical advice. When it comes to investing, he preaches quality over quantity, distinguishes between price and values, stresses the importance of planning for the long-term – and being generous with what you have.
But as he’s usually known to do, Buffett also veered into the personal. While investment choices are important, the Omaha guru said, “Choosing what you do and who you do it with is everything.” He added that finding the right spouse and settling down into a happy marriage is “90%” of the formula for success.
He’s right – not even the most successful business empire will ever supplant a happy home life.
“Happy is the man who is happy in his wife,” said Charles Spurgeon.
But for all the sage sentiments Mr. Buffett shared during last week’s interview with Rose, he said something and has done things that seem uncharacteristically off and shortsighted for a man who prides himself with taking the long view of life.
Warren Buffett has been extremely philanthropic – but he’s also given to some of the very worst organizations. Spearheaded by his late wife, Susan, their foundation has reportedly donated $4 billion over the years to pro-abortion interests, including over $700 million to Planned Parenthood.
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation began to try and fight so-called “over population” – a leftist trope liberals have loved to trump. Of course, it’s illogical and ultimately counterproductive for someone in business to deliberately support the killing of future customers. But it would appear Buffett and company have long embraced a lie.
Stressing how much better off Americans are financially today than a century ago, Buffett suggested to Charlie Rose last week that the bottom 5% of the country are better off than John D. Rockefeller was in 1936 – the year before the great industrialist died. He went on to say Americans today have access to better medicine, better education and better entertainment – stressing that “you can do everything better.”
If only that were true.
If by “better” Buffett is referring to ease and access, there’s little doubt life is exponentially more convenient. But better? Families may have been economically poorer in 1936, and by a lot, but they were, on average, faring better on so many other measurable fronts. Today, the divorce rate is double what it was in the 1930s – and cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed.
My own father, who was born in 1931, always said they were poor – but the kids never knew it. They lived happily in a walkup apartment in Brooklyn overlooking the elevated train. Their family of seven survived on my grandfather’s salary as a journeyman painter.
And does anyone really believe today’s education and entertainment offerings are better than they were in 1936?
“Woke” schools regularly serve up confused and dangerous propaganda. In the early 1900s, eighth graders were asked to define and give examples of the following four forms of government: A Democracy, a Limited Monarchy, an Absolute Monarchy and a Republic. Today they’re subjected to such spectacles as “queer studies.”
Today, debased Hollywood producers churn out poisoned movies and programs with no redeeming plots. The top films of the 1930s included “Gone With the Wind” (1939) and “Little Women” (1933).
But better is not always bigger and richer. Under the guise of “progress” we often take one step forward and two steps back. When C.S. Lewis’ mother died, he said, “All settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
There are many of us who would surrender countless dollars to spend even just another day with our loved ones who only now just reside in our dreams.
Warren Buffett famously said the most important factor in picking a successful investment is judging the durability of a company’s competitive advantage. But during a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in 2008, a shareholder asked the investment giant about the most successful decision of all, asking him if he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“No, I am an agnostic. I don’t know whether there is a God or not. Maybe when I die, I will find out, but I don’t know.”
As he ponders investments and company performances all day long, I hope and pray Mr. Buffett will pursue his curiosity, even as the Lord pursues him. For a man so wise in business, I hope he recognizes that the most important factor in living a meaningful life is knowing why God made him – and what purpose He has for him for the remaining days he has left on earth.
Photo from Shutterstock.