Notes from the meeting Dr. George Athanassakos and Ivey MBA and HBA students had with Mr. Warren Buffett.
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As we grow up, our motivations have changed. What is your motivation now and what motivates you every morning when you wake up?
I want to be the oldest man! There are a lot of things I can do, and I love to work with the people here. I can do the job I love at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B). I get to paint my own painting. I come to work and no one tells me what to do. It’s a free canvas. I can choose the color to paint with. It’s the same with my managers. I give them their own brush, and they can paint their painting individually. They do a very good job. At Nebraska Furniture Mart they’re expanding into Texas. The job won’t change their lives significantly, but it’s their painting.
You will want to find a place that you admire and work for them. I’m doing what I love doing. I took a job at the age of 23 with Ben Graham, I offered to work for free and he said I was overpriced. Eventually he did give me a job and I didn’t ask about the pay. I loved it and that’s the job I’m doing now.
You said in a 2010 interview that the best advice you ever received from your father was unconditional love. How has that impacted your business decisions?
Yes, I said that the greatest gift that my father ever gave me was unconditional love. Now, that doesn’t mean that you get applauded for everything that you do. My father definitely told me if he didn’t agree with my actions, but I always knew that he would be there for me.
When I was 13 I moved to Washington. I didn’t adjust well and my actions were not exemplary. My father talked to me and told me that I could do better. Throughout my life my father told me he supported me no matter what I wanted to do. It’s an enormous factor. If you receive it from your parents that’s great, if you don’t, it’s an uphill battle. That’s why, for you guys, choosing a spouse is the most important decision in your life. You need to choose a spouse who believes in you and will give you that unconditional love. The best way to find a spouse like this, I think, is to be lovable.
I became very good friends with a woman who was a Polish Jew. She was in one of the camps during WWII and her sister and her mother were in different camps at the same time. Unfortunately, her sister and mother
never came out. After this experience, she was always very slow to make friends. She would always say to me, “Warren, every time I meet somebody, I always ask myself, would they hide me?” There are some very rich people whose children wouldn’t hide them. There’s the poem that reads:
A bell’s not a bell ‘til you ring it,
A song’s not a song ‘til you sing it,
Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away!
Lots of rich people who don’t understand this live very empty lives. No matter what, if you have unconditional love, you’ll be alright.
In the acquisition of H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ), you funded the purchase with debt and partnered with 3G Capital. 3G typically take activist roles, often changing management, while Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B) usually leaves management in place. What made you comfortable with welcoming 3G’s strategy?
The head of 3G Capital, Jorge Paulo, is a good friend and an amazing manager, and mentioned he was looking at Heinz and asked if I was interested. He sent me a two-page proposal, one page financial and one page addressing governance, and I didn’t have to change a single word. They are great managers at 3G. No matter
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