Power Players

The advice from Warren Buffett that inspired Bill and Melinda Gates

Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, in an interview on May 5, 2015

"Swing for the fences."

That's the advice Warren Buffett gave his friends Bill and Melinda Gates when he pledged millions of shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006.

"[F]oundations like ours have the freedom to test out ideas that might not otherwise get tried, some of which may lead to breakthroughs," the Gates wrote in the foundation's annual letter for 2020. "As always, Warren Buffett—a dear friend and longtime source of great advice—put it a little more colorfully. When he donated the bulk of his fortune to our foundation and joined us as a partner in its work, he urged us to 'swing for the fences.'"

"That's a phrase many Americans will recognize from baseball," the Gates wrote. "When you swing for the fences, you're putting every ounce of strength into hitting the ball as far as possible. You know that your bat might miss the ball entirely—but that if you succeed in making contact, the rewards can be huge."

"That's how we think about our philanthropy, too," the Gates said in the letter. "The goal isn't just incremental progress. It's to put the full force of our efforts and resources behind the big bets that, if successful, will save and improve lives."

The Gates started their Seattle-based foundation in 2000. It has granted $50.1 billion through 2018 to help alleviate poverty and improve health in impoverished countries and to improve education in the United States.

The Gates foundation also donated $100 million toward coronavirus relief on Thursday.

Going forward, the Gates Foundation will focus on climate change and gender inequality, according to the annual letter. And as the foundation and the Gates focus on the future, Bill Gates says they will take Buffett's advice into account still.

"When Warren urged Melinda and me to swing for the fences all those years ago, he was talking about the areas our foundation worked on at the time, not climate change," Bill wrote. "But his advice applies here, too. The world can't solve a problem like climate change without making big bets."

Buffett gifted 10 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Gates Foundation in June 2006, according to the foundation's site, which is paid in annual installments. At the time, the shares were worth approximately $31 billion.

"...Warren believes in the true role of philanthropy: To take risks where governments can't and to be a true catalyst for change. Warren, you are that catalyst for Bill and me. You are our lift," Melinda Gates wrote in an August Facebook post in honor of Buffett's 89th birthday.

Bill Gates and Buffett also created The Giving Pledge in 2010, which invites billionaires to commit giving away at least 50% of their wealth. As of 2020, 206 billionaires have signed The Giving Pledge.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates' net worth is $112.7 billion and Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Buffett is worth $89.1 billion, according to Forbes.

This is the top lesson from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's favorite business book
This is the top lesson from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's favorite business book