Growing Up Buffett
Don’t look for Susie, Howard and Peter Buffett’s names on the Forbes list of richest Americans any time soon. Sure, they’ve got more money than the average millionaire. After all, their dad is Warren Buffett. But he’s not drawing up a mega inheritance for them, like you might expect from the third-richest person in the world.
You remember the headlines: Warren Buffett giving his billions to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. So do you think the kids are bitter? Not even a little bit. (And they’re talking to Donny Deutsch about it in a rare interview on "The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch" to be broadcast Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. EST and again at 1 a.m. EST.) And that’s a classic Buffett move by a guy who never let his kids get a big head growing up.
In fact, Susie, Howard and Peter say they were never really aware their dad was anyone special. Howard says life was just like it was for all his friends. Apparently growing up Buffett wasn’t that much different from growing up Smith, Jones, or maybe even Brady.
Peter Buffett insists his dad was just this “aw-shucks” guy, and Omaha was the city where the family roots ran deep. The kids went to the same grade school as their mother and the same high school as their grandfathers. They would just stroll down the street a few blocks to have dinner with their grandparents.
Hometown USA. Sounds Just like a picture book, doesn’t it?
Well, here’s a little more of that picture. Susie is the eldest, Howard is the middle kid, and Peter is the baby. They say their late mom, Susan, was the disciplinarian. And by all accounts, Howard was the hell-raiser of the family. He still gets a good chuckle out of it. He says he took the spankings and deserved every one of them. At one time, Howard must have teased his sister something terrible, because Susie says her dad felt the need to rock her in his arms at the end of the day, and sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her.
There’s a story there, but Howard isn’t talking. And Susie won’t give it up either.
What Susie is quick to say is that around the dinner table “Dad’s just about the funniest guy alive.” And she’s dishing on his legendary bedraggled attire. Apparently the outside world doesn’t know the half of it. It seems the Oracle of Omaha once had a case of sweat suit attachment that went on way too long. Susie remembers the old man’s sweat suit in tatters -- threadbare and full of holes, shrunken to half way up his calves. She says her dad was ready to go out Christmas shopping in these duds, until she put her foot down.
The funny thing about the Buffett kids is that they aren’t shy about telling tales. That “aw-shucks” attitude attributed to dad applies to them as well.
So fast forward a couple of decades. Dad’s a billionaire, the second richest man in the world. And he makes headlines with the announcement he was giving away most of his fortune to charity and a large part of that to the Gates Foundation. His kids would get a billion dollars each for their own charitable foundations, but hardly anything for themselves.
“You never got anything in the hundreds of millions?” Donny asks. “Oh no,” Peter says with real shock in his eyes, as if he’d never seen that kind of money. He laughs and says if he were to buy an apartment on Manhattan’s upper east side, he’ll need to hit the streets with a tin cup.
So back to that question the world is asking: Are the Buffett kids bitter? Not hardly. They say they couldn’t be more proud of their dad and what he’s doing with his money. And Susie says the person who would be the proudest of all, if she were alive to see it, would be their mom.
You can watch the entire interview with Susie, Howard and Peter Buffett on Monday, May 7, 2007 at 10 p.m. EST and 1 a.m. EST on “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch”