Warren Buffett playing with the Quebec Sisters Band at a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting
His name is legendary, synonymous with decades of brilliant investments and the unimaginable wealth that resulted from them. He’s been called the top money manager of the 20th century, ranked among the most influential people in the world, been the subject of dozens of books and has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The only reason he doesn’t always rank at the top of the wealthiest people on the planet is because he’s given so much of his fortune away.
Even those with no knowledge of the investing world know of Warren Buffett, the so-called Sage of Omaha, and his company, Berkshire Hathaway, among the largest and most valuable conglomerates in the world. Berkshire has ownership interests in companies as varied as GEICO, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, American Express, Costco, DirecTV, General Electric, Coca-Cola, IBM, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Wells Fargo.
Buffett’s immense success can sometimes obscure the quirky particulars of the man behind it, the sort of colorful details that have made his folksy annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders popular far and wide. Like how by the time he graduated high school, he had already run a pinball machine business, invested in the stock market and purchased a 40-acre farm. Or how he was rejected by Harvard Business School. (He enrolled at Columbia University instead.) Or how he very nearly retired at 26, figuring the modest savings he’d acquired was enough for a comfortable life. Or how he likes to spend his days sitting quietly and alone in his 14th-floor office in Omaha, believing inactivity is the secret to developing fruitful investments — a strategy that has led Berkshire Hathaway’s per-share book value to increase nearly seventhousandfold since he acquired the textile manufacturing firm in the 1960s and transformed it into a diversified holding company.
Many people also don’t know Buffett dabbles in commercial real estate. In his 2014 shareholder letter, he drew attention to his financial stakes in a Nebraska farm and a New York City retail property, using them to illustrate his real estate strategy, which closely resembles his overall investment philosophy: Find underrated properties with long-term value prospects, then maximize their efficiencies. Since then, he’s stayed true to that approach. In June, Berkshire Hathaway sent shock waves through the real estate world by acquiring a major stake in Store Capital Corp., a real estate investment trust that specializes in “internet resistant” properties such as preschool facilities, health clubs and pet-care sites.
Buffett’s frugal lifestyle, despite his wealth, is legendary. He still lives in the five-bedroom Omaha house he purchased for $31.5K in 1957. That’s where he can often be found drinking his beloved Coca-Colas, playing the ukulele and coming up with ways to lose all his money. After all, he’s promised to give away 99% of his wealth to philanthropic efforts. — Joel Warner
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