Howard sits on the Berkshire Hathaway board, but considers himself a farmer at heart.
SUSIE GHARIB: Warren Buffett is a savvy investor, businessman and the chairman and CEO of the Berkshire Hathaway Company. But this week, we’ll show you a personal side of Buffett from the people who know him best, his three adult children. I recently met with Susie (ph), Howard and Peter Buffett and talked with them about growing up with Warren Buffett and what they’ve learned from their billionaire father about money, business and charity. Buffett has given each of his kids more than a billion dollars to fund their own foundations. As we kick off our series “Meet the Buffetts,” we introduce you tonight to Howard Buffett, Warren’s middle child.
Howard Graham Buffett is not big on business suits or boardrooms. His passion is farming. The 53-year-old son of Warren Buffett is happiest when he’s driving his tractor, surveying his 850-acre corn and soybean farm in central Illinois. He’s named after two important role models in Warren Buffett’s life: Warren’s father Howard, a U.S. congressman; and Warren’s mentor, Benjamin Graham, the stock investing pioneer. Howard has tried to live up to those remarkable men. He has served on many corporate boards, including Conagra Foods, Archer Daniels Midland and Coca-Cola Enterprises.
Currently, he’s a director of Lindsay Corporation, the Omaha manufacturer of agricultural equipment. When Howard’s not working on his farm, he’s traveling throughout the third world. His foundation supports agriculture and clean water projects in Africa and Central America. It’s also where he indulges in his favorite hobby: photography. He has published many books with his photos of exotic wildlife. Howard is the only one of the Buffett kids to serve on the board of directors of Berkshsire Hathaway and he’s the closest thing to a successor to Warren Buffett. His father has tapped him to be Berkshire’s next chairman when the time comes.
Howard, you spend a lot of time with your father in business settings. By watching him in action, what’s the most important thing that you’ve learned about leadership and running a business?
HOWARD BUFFETT, PRES., HOWARD G. BUFFETT FOUNDATION: It’s just being honest with people. I mean that sounds pretty simple, but I think what I watched him do is be very straightforward and very upfront and give honest answers and treat people fairly. And I think it’s just the basics. And I think a lot of times people get away from the basics.
GHARIB: Now you’re in line to take over from your father as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway when he retires. Has he given you any sense of what he expects from you in that role or any advice?
BUFFETT: He said to me that what he really wants me to do is focus on making sure the culture doesn’t change, so I think whatever that means at the time is what I’ll focus on, but I don’t think it will change dramatically anyway if we get the right CEO. So I think the big decision is getting the right CEO.
GHARIB: So what was it like growing up as the son of Warren Buffett?
BUFFETT: It probably wasn’t any different than anybody else growing up in their own family. I mean, you know, we never thought about my dad in any way other than he was our dad. He wasn’t in the newspaper much. He started getting in the newspaper a little bit when we were in high school and so you would get a little bit of that feedback once in a while, but it wasn’t a big thing. And in Omaha it wasn’t a big thing.
GHARIB: You seem very down to earth and how did you stay grounded given that your father is the richest man in the world?
BUFFETT: Well, I think you have to give — probably give him a lot of credit for that and give my mom a lot of credit for that because we didn’t grow up any differently than anyone else. People always go, oh, that can’t be true, but if you look at the house that he lives in today, we grew up in that house. It’s a big house, but it’s pretty typical and every once in a while my mom might have remodeled it, but it’s a typical residence in kind of central Omaha.
GHARIB: It’s planting time now at your farm. You’re dressed to plant corn. Why do you do that when you could sit back and let others do this work for you?
BUFFETT: Because I love doing it. I don’t know any other answer. I like doing it.
GHARIB: Did your father indulge you in any way with lavish gifts or buying you anything you ever wanted?
BUFFETT: No, I would say that that’s just about the opposite of how we grew up. I mean he was always very thrifty and very conscientious about how money was spent. And so the last thing he would have done is — for more than one reason is to spend a lot of money on his kids.
GHARIB: I figure you didn’t get a big allowance.
BUFFETT: I probably got a $0.25 allowance. For that I had to clean the gutters and dump the trash on Saturday or something. You didn’t get an allowance without also doing something for it. And I will tell you, growing up, I always felt it was fair. I might have argued for, you know, a little increase to $0.50 or something but, you know, I got $0.35.
GHARIB: Howard, in our culture, money can change people. Why is it that money hasn’t changed your father?
BUFFETT: Money has not been something that’s driven him. He’s got — he had more than he needed years ago and it’s the challenge of doing deals and doing good deals and working with people that you want to work with.
GHARIB: You have kids. You have five of them. Is this what you’re teaching them?
BUFFETT: I hope so. I mean, I’ll know better, you know, as time goes on, but we never really drove fancy cars or we never took really luxurious vacations. Most of our kids spent a lot of time with me either on our farm working or traveling around the world and seeing what other people didn’t have. And I think that was a big influence in how they are today. And I would hope it would be a big influence.
GHARIB: Your father donated the bulk of his estate to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $37 billion. Were you surprised that you didn’t get a big chunk of that fortune or at least your foundation?
BUFFETT: I wouldn’t say we were surprised. I would say that he felt that Bill and Melinda had a big head start on us in terms of how you handle a lot of money. And I think if he had given us each $3 billion, we probably wouldn’t have done as well as what we’ve done with $1.5 billion. And I think having had the experience with learning and growing and giving away that kind of money would make us a lot smarter if we do have more money. And so I think it’s very consistent with the way he thinks about everything that he does in his life.
GHARIB: Money has torn apart so many families. Why hasn’t it affected your family?
BUFFETT: I’d never sue my sister because she’d win. I think that, you know, we all have everything we could ever want in our life, and we know that. I think when families fight about money it’s because there’s this big chunk of money put in front of them that they can fight over. That’s never been put in front of us. So we’ve never had to worry about it.