Careers

Billionaire BFFs Warren Buffett and Bill Gates went mattress shopping and discussed the key to success

1031067
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg | Getty Images

Billionaire best friends Warren Buffett and Bill Gates can't get enough of each other. They love the same books. They have the same definition of success. And, last month, at Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholders weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, the two took a little field trip to Berkshire-owned "mega-store" Nebraska Furniture Mart.

In Gates' own words, they "tried out some lounge chairs, played with remote-controlled mattresses and somehow managed to get lost" in the cavernous store.

They also discussed passion, leadership and philanthropy (yes, really) and reflected on the history of their friendship.

ALLEN & CO CONFERENCE
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg | Getty Images

"We didn't know why were meeting each other until we met each other," said Gates, holding up a photo of him and Buffett sitting on a couch together in 1991.

"But the domain of trying to understand how the world works and what was going on, we both found each other's way of looking at that so fascinating that they had to tear us apart, and we became good old friends as of that day."

And friends don't let friends test-drive mattresses alone.

"My real vocational goal was to be a mattress tester," Buffett told Gates. "I thought that would be a terrific job. I never got that, but they did name a mattress after me: 'the Warren.'"

The two men kicked back on 'the Warren' under an ad that bears an image of the lounging CEO and the words, "Sleep soundly. You've made a wise investment."

"Now this is the way to spend your time!" said Buffett, reclining. "I wouldn't fool around with computers when I could be in this position."

The massive store they're visiting, founded in 1937 by immigrant Rose Blumpkin, is an appropriate backdrop for talking about success. Blumpkin launched the business with a $500 investment from her brother and sold it to Buffett in a handshake deal in 1983.

The CEO was reportedly so impressed with "Mrs. B" and her company that he purchased it without an audit. Blumkin was 90 at the time, and, Buffett said, she continued to work to the age of 103.

"Being successful at almost anything means having a passion for it," said Buffett. "If you see somebody with even reasonable intelligence and a terrific passion for what they do and who can get people around them to march, even when those people can't see over the top of the next hill, things are gonna happen."

Gates applied those musings to his career transition from tech to philanthropy.

"Being successful at almost anything means having a passion for it." -Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

"Building Microsoft was incredibly fun, and because we were right about software we had the wind at our back. When I got into philanthropy," said Gates, "the idea of could I do it twice, in an area where the feedback isn't quite as obvious of what you're doing right and wrong — now I can say that we've got this organization that's so much fun to be part of so it's not only a great organization it's got these metrics that, at least on some of them, we've exceeded our own expectations."

But having found success in both business and philanthropy doesn't mean Gates and Buffett always know the way forward.

"How do we get out of here?" asked Gates.

Buffett thought.

"Let me get oriented now," said the Oracle of Omaha, looking around the store. "The truth is, I don't know where we are."

Don't miss: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have the same definition of success—and it has nothing to do with money