You wouldn’t expect one of the world’s richest men to be full of good advice for the average mom. However, I’ve picked up several encouraging lessons from Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway who stays in a dead heat with his buddy Bill Gates for the distinction of being the wealthiest person on earth. In 2010 he and Gates made headlines for encouraging others in their billionnaire circles to join them in the Giving Pledge and give away at least 50% of of their wealth (Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has joined the group). Buffett himself has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth.
As exceptional as Buffett’s situation is, I think he unwittingly offers us moms some points to ponder:
- Buffet is one of the few remaining business leaders with depression-era sensibilities. Although he buys and sells multi-million dollar companies – in cash! – he still lives in his modest home, works in an unremarkable office, and famously drinks cherry Coke (he is a major shareholder in Coca Cola). If you’ve ever stepped onto the plush carpet of the typical executive suite, you know this is most unusual. Buffet isn’t trying to keep up with a peer group.
- Buffet points out that while he givesof his money, many people devote their time, which in comparison, is a nonrenewable resource and thus more precious. “A struggling child, befriended and nurtured by a caring mentor, receives a gift whose value far exceeds what can be bestowed by a check,” he says. Volunteers, educators, scout leaders, etc., you don’t hear it often enough, but your efforts make the difference.
- Even after giving away 99% of his wealth, Buffet projects he will still have more than enough to meet his and his family’s needs. Were they to use any more than this, he says, neither their happiness nor well-being would be further enhanced. Most of us get suckered into thinking we can enhance our happiness by buying things (perhaps even using money we don’t have). How refreshing is it to hear from someone who has more than he can possibly spend but recognizes “more” stuff wouldn’t enhance happiness?
- I love Buffett’s practical approach to Return on Investment. Unlike the typical tycoon, he doesn’t own a half dozen homes, since aside from being a burden to him personally, they wouldn’t produce the value that could be achieved through philanthropy. ”Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner,” he says. So true! I’ve watched enough Clean House to know.
Buffett’s has funded charitable trusts of one billion dollars for each of his three grown children to direct (staggering when you consider that a charitable trust of that size is required to give away at least 5%, or $50 million dollars, each year). That’s a lot of mosquito nets, potable drinking water, and vaccinations, all of which could change the fate of entire populations in our lifetime.
Maybe we’ll never contribute on that scale, but we can surely appreciate the humble observations.
Note: According to Forbes, Alabama’s only billionnaire is a Birmingham Mom: Marguerite Harbert, widow of John Harbert III. She ranked #616 in 2010.