Stewart Horejsi’s business was in a funk. It was 1980, and Brown Welding Supply LLC, his family’s third-generation distributor of hydrogen and oxygen tanks, was battling competitors that were intent on expanding into the corner of Kansas he controlled.
“It was a profitable business, but companies took their money and bought more trucks,” Horejsi, 75, said in a telephone interview from his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. “The competition just grew.”
Frustrated, Horejsi bought 40 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A) for $265 each with the company’s cash after friends told him about Warren Buffett, the company’s then-little known chairman. He bought another 60 shares two weeks later at $295 and 200 more at $330 a month after that.
Today, he’s a billionaire. The 4,300 Class A shares of the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate Horejsi says he holds is bigger than the stake controlled by Bill Gates, 57, the world’s richest person and Buffett’s bridge partner. He has a net worth of at least $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and has never appeared on an international wealth ranking.
Horejsi joins a squad of billionaires minted by Berkshire. In addition to Buffett, the world’s fourth-richest person, at least six current or former billionaires derive their fortunes from Berkshire. They include Charles Munger, 89, the company’s vice chairman and David Gottesman, 86, a Berkshire board member and founder of asset management firm First Manhattan Co.
Buffett’s late wife, Susan, died in 2004 with a 2.2 percent economic interest in Berkshire. Albert Ueltschi, founder of FlightSafety International Inc., which Berkshire acquired in 1996 for about $1.5 billion in stock and cash, sold his 31.8 percent stake for Berkshire shares, a holding that would have been valued at $2.4 billion when he died 16 years later. Harold Alfond, founder of the Dexter Shoe Co., died in 2007 with $3 billion in Berkshire stock.
There are probably other Berkshire billionaires to be uncovered. In a June 2010 Fortune magazine article, Buffett said that he knew of two Berkshire shareholders who qualify for the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, and weren’t on it.
Full article via bloomberg.com