Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett Biography

Philanthropist, Business Leader(1930–)
Known as the "Oracle of Omaha," Warren Buffett is an investment guru and one of the richest and most respected businessmen in the world.

Who Is Warren Buffett?

Born in Nebraska in 1930, Warren Buffett demonstrated keen business abilities at a young age. He formed Buffett Partnership Ltd. in 1956, and by 1965 he had assumed control of Berkshire Hathaway. Overseeing the growth of a conglomerate with holdings in the media, insurance, energy and food and beverage industries, Buffett became one of the world's richest men and a celebrated philanthropist.

Early Life

Businessman and investor. Born Warren Edward Buffett on August 30, 1930, in Omaha, Nebraska. Buffett's father, Howard, worked as stockbroker and served as a U.S. congressman. His mother, Leila Stahl Buffett, was a homemaker. Buffett was the second of three children and the only boy.

Buffett demonstrated a knack for financial and business matters early in his childhood. Friends and acquaintances have said the young boy was a mathematical prodigy who could add large columns of numbers in his head, a talent he occasionally demonstrated in his later years.

Warren often visited his father's stockbrokerage shop as a child, and chalked in the stock prices on the blackboard in the office. At 11 years old he made his first investment, buying three shares of Cities Service Preferred at $38 per share. The stock quickly dropped to only $27, but Buffett held on tenaciously until they reached $40. He sold his shares at a small profit, but regretted the decision when Cities Service shot up to nearly $200 a share. He later cited this experience as an early lesson in patience in investing.

First Entrepreneurial Venture

By the age of 13, Buffett was running his own businesses as a paperboy and selling his own horseracing tip sheet. That same year, he filed his first tax return, claiming his bike as a $35 tax deduction.

In 1942, Buffett's father was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and his family moved to Fredricksburg, Virginia, to be closer to the congressman's new post. Buffett attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., where he continued plotting new ways to make money. During his high school tenure, he and a friend purchased a used pinball machine for $25. They installed it in a barbershop, and within a few months the profits enabled them to buy other machines. Buffett owned machines in three different locations before he sold the business for $1,200.

Higher Education and Early Career 

Buffett enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to study business. He stayed two years, moved to the University of Nebraska to finish up his degree, and emerged from college at age 20 with nearly $10,000 from his childhood businesses.

Influenced by Benjamin Graham's 1949 book, The Intelligent Investor, Buffett enrolled at Columbia Business School to study under the acclaimed economist and investor. After earning his master's degree in 1951, he sold securities for Buffett-Falk & Company for three years, then worked for his mentor for two years as an analyst at Graham-Newman Corp. 

In 1956, Buffet formed the firm Buffett Partnership Ltd. in his hometown of Omaha. Utilizing the techniques learned from Graham, he was successful in identifying undervauled companies and became a millionaire. One such enterprise Buffett valued was a textile company named Berkshire Hathaway. He began accumulating stock in the early 1960s, and by 1965 he had assumed control of the company.

Business Empire

Despite the success of Buffett Partnership, its founder dissolved the firm in 1969 to focus on the development of Berkshire Hathaway. He phased out its textile manufacturing division, instead expanding the company by buying assets in media (The Washington Post), insurance (GEICO) and oil (Exxon). Immensely successful, the "Oracle of Omaha" even managed to spin seemingly poor investments into gold, most notably with his purchase of scandal-plagued Salomon Brothers in 1987. 

Following Berkshire Hathaway's significant investment in Coca-Cola, Buffett became director of the company from 1989 until 2006. He has also served as director of Citigroup Global Markets Holdings, Graham Holdings Company and The Gillette Company.

Recent Activity and Philanthropy

In June 2006, Buffett made an announcement that he would be giving his entire fortune away to charity, committing 85 percent of it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This donation became the largest act of charitable giving in United States history. In 2010, Buffett and Gates announced they had formed The Giving Pledge campaign to recruit more wealthy individuals for philanthropic causes. 

In 2012, Buffett disclosed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He began undergoing radiation treatment in July, and successfully completed his treatment in November. 

The health scare did little to slow the octogenarian, who annually ranks near the top of the Forbes world billionaires list. In February 2013, Buffett purchased H. J. Heinz with private equity group 3G Capital for $28 billion. Later additions to the Berkshire Hathaway stable included battery maker Duracell and Kraft Foods Group, which merged with Heinz in 2015 to form the third-largest food and beverage company in North America.

Warren Buffet Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

Warren Buffett at a Town Hall rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Sokol Auditorium on December 16, 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo: Steve Pope/Getty Images)

In 2016, Buffett launched Drive2Vote, a website aimed at encouraging people in his Nebraska community to exercise their right to vote, as well as to assist in registering and driving voters to a polling location if they needed a ride. 

A vocal supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, whom he’d endorsed in 2015, Buffett also challenged the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, to meet and share their tax returns. "I will meet him in Omaha or Mar-a-Lago or, he can pick the place, anytime between now and election, he said at an August 1 rally in Omaha. "I'll bring my return, he'll bring his return. We're both under audit. And believe me, nobody's going to stop us from talking about what's on those returns." Trump did not accept the offer, and his refusal to share his returns ultimately did not prevent his election to the presidency in 2016. 

In May 2017, Buffett revealed that he had begun selling some of the approximately 81 million shares he owned in IBM stock, noting that he did not value the company as highly as he did six years earlier. Following another sale in the third quarter, his stake in the company dropped to about 37 million shares. On the flip side, he increased his investment in Apple by 3 percent, and became Bank of America's largest shareholder by exercising warrants for 700 million shares. Early the following year, he added more Apple shares to make it Berkshire Hathaway's largest common stock investment.

Healthcare Venture

On January 30, 2018, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase and Amazon delivered a joint press release in which they announced plans to team up and form a new healthcare company for their U.S. employees.

According to the release, the yet-to-be-named company will be "free from profit-making incentives and constraints" as it tries to find ways to cut costs and improve the overall process for patients, with an initial focus on technology solutions.

Calling the swelling costs of healthcare a "hungry tapeworm on the American economy," Buffett said, "We share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes."

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