Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett is the "greatest PR person of recent times" and has "managed to achieve a snow job that has conned virtually everyone in the press," Wisdom Tree Investments Chairman Michael Steinhardt told CNBC Tuesday. "It is remarkable that he continues to do it."
Steinhardt founded Steinhardt Partners LP, one of the most successful hedge fund managers, in 1967. Back then "you had to be a special money manager to run a hedge fund because you were expected to do well," he said. "It's a very different world today."
Steinhardt, who retired in 1995, said the basis for Buffett's public relations job isn't so much Berkshire's portfolio outperforming the Standard & Poor's 500 in the past — he said he doubts it — but the 80-year-old Buffett's relatively recent philanthropy.
"What he has done...is that he gave away 2½ cents for the first 70-some-odd years of his life. He gave away nothing and then in one fell swoop he gave away almost all of his money, thoughtlessly, to one guy," Steinhardt said, referring to Microsoft's Bill Gates. (See the full video and transcript here)
In June 2006, Buffett announced his plans to contribute 10 million of his Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, worth approximately $36 billion. In December 2010, Gates, Buffett and others signed what they called the "Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge" in which they promised to donate to charity at least half of their wealth over the course of time.
When he made that first donation to the Gates foundation, Steinhardt said, Buffett "became the greatest advocate to philanthropy and pitched all the bumbling billionaires to do the same thing, and many of them did. Now that takes a special guy."
Steinhardt added the resignation of Buffett heir-presumptive David Sokol for alleged insider trading is a "common American practice, but it’s not common for Buffett to get caught in that sort of thing. It’s a peculiarly ugly phenomenon."
He called the American stock market "an inland sea of calm water" compared with the rest of the world. "Here," Steinhardt said, "the biggest thing we have to worry about is how long it will take for Buffett to come down to earth, where he should have been a long time ago."