Why Warren Buffett is "Everywhere"


Why does Warren Buffett seem to be "everywhere" lately? USA Today tries to answer that question in a Money section 'Cover Story' today (Thursday) headlined Buffett hones rock-star status.

The premise: Throughout most of his investing career, Buffett kept a "low profile" and generally spoke publicly only on "specific occasions" like the annual shareholders meeting or when he had big news.

Now he's "making his voice heard these days" by talking to cable TV anchors (including CNBC's resident Buffett watcher Becky Quick), magazines, shareholders, Congress, and a biographer.

"He's generating newsy sound bites at press conferences. On airplanes. In impromptu TV interviews outside his home. Even in faraway places such as China, South Korea, and major cities in the euro zone, where he just got back from a 'European Tour.' He's even popped up in a CNBC documentary, The Billionaire Next Door: All Access, which delves into all things Buffett. Not to mention a recent guest appearance on the daytime soap opera All My Children."

USA Today's Adam Shell talked to a number of Buffett experts to determine why the "formerly reticent investment superstar suddenly emerged as a 24/7 media go-to guy?"

Shell came up with not just one, but five, explanations:

  • He is a news media favorite in turbulent times. "He has the requisite credibility, experience and track record to act as a calming influence on the masses."
  • He is shaping and preserving his legacy. The 77-year-old Buffett is nearing the end of his career. "That leads Buffett watchers to speculate that he is upping his media presence to cement his legacy."

    • He is scouring the globe for deals. Buffett acknowledged that his recent trip to Europe, which generated wide-spread news coverage there, was designed to raise his profile among family-owned businesses that might want to be acquired by Berkshire.
    • He is Berkshire; he is the brand. To boost Berkshire's stock price for shareholders, Buffett needs to turn it into a global brand, and "that's a PR job only Buffett can do." (I've noticed that Buffett has been appearing in ads for Berkshire companies more often lately.)
    • He is giving back by sharing his wisdom. If Buffett hadn't been an investor, he might have been a teacher. "He has the rare ability to translate arcane financial concepts into easy-to-understand language" and seems to enjoy doing so.

    The paper also did a sidebar on 5 reasons people listen to Buffett, including his incredible track record, and my personal favorite, "He's just like you and me."

    Buffett, however, is not quite everywhere. He declined to be interviewed for the USA Today piece, but in keeping with the article's premise, he did make this comment by email to the newspaper:

    "Someone once said the word 'motivation' should never be used in the singular. Some combinations of motives always exists and it's impossible for anyone to quantify the proportion of each that is involved in any given act. So to your five items the answer is probably 'all of the above.'"

    My own sense is that Buffett has been feeling overexposed lately, even before the USA Today article. I expect he'll be less visible in the coming months, although I don't think he will go entirely low profile. He'll just dial it down a bit.

    After all, having USA Today do a story on how you're "everywhere" is a pretty good sign it's time to leave the audience wanting more. Buffett sometimes quotes Mae West as saying, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful." He's sensible enough to know she wasn't necessarily talking about him.

    And finally, I do recognize there's a certain irony in the fact that I'm writing about Buffett's "overexposure" in a blog devoted to following his every move. Don't take me too seriously!

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