October 12, 2011

Warren Buffett’s Son, Peter, Says Dad Doesn’t Owe Him a Thing

Philanthropist and musician Peter Buffett ‘learned more in difficult times about myself’

Warren Buffett is flanked by his son, Peter, and daughter, Susie, at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, in Omaha, Neb., in 2007. (AP Photo: Nati Harnik) Warren Buffett is flanked by his son, Peter, and daughter, Susie, at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, in Omaha, Neb., in 2007. (AP Photo: Nati Harnik)

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has earned a reputation as a highly quotable speaker, and now his son is following in his father’s footsteps even though he won’t be inheriting his dad’s fortune.

“Silver spoons don’t come free”—and being born into a wealthy family shouldn’t entitle anybody to anything special, said Emmy award-winning musician, author and philanthropist Peter Buffett in a recent conversation and concert hosted in New York by law firm Withers Bergman for the younger members of the Institute for Private Investors (IPI). 

“I learned more in difficult times about myself and my resiliency than I ever would have if I’d had a pile of money and I could have glided through life,” said Buffett, an established musician with some dozen albums whose father gave him just $90,000 in Berkshire Hathaway stock when he was 19.

Much later in Peter’s life, he and his two siblings each got about $1 billion to spend on philanthropic causes. (In 2006, Warren Buffett vowed to give away 85% of his fortune to charity, most of it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.) Peter and his wife started the NoVo Foundation, which supports education and human rights for women and girls in developing countries.

Peter Buffett didn’t realize just how well-off his family was until he was about 25 years old, according to a Freakanomics Radio podcast interview.

“We didn’t know what he did,” he says of his ordinary upbringing. “In fact when my sister filled out a form, I think in fourth or fifth grade, about what our parents did, she put ‘security analysis,’ and that was assumed that what he did was check alarm systems.”

Although Peter Buffett received little financial support from his parents, he told the IPI gathering that he received plenty of emotional support. “I believe it is an act of love for parents to say, ‘I believe in you as my child, and you don’t need my help. The support, the privilege, really comes from having two parents who said

and believed I could do anything. That support didn’t come in the form of a check.  It came in the form of love and nurturing and respect for us finding our way, falling down, figuring out how to get up ourselves.”

The Institute for Private Investors, a membership organization with offices in New York and San Francisco, is devoted to investment education for its membership of 1,100 ultra-high net worth private investors, about 345 private families, with minimum investible assets of $30 million. IPI next generation members are the adult children of families with substantial assets, usually principals ranging in age from 20 to 40-plus.

The younger Buffett’s philosophy is more fully reflected in his New York Times bestseller, ”Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment,” a self-help memoir published in 2010 that features chapters such as “No one deserves anything,” “The myth of the level playing field,” and “The gentle art of giving back.”

Recommended by former President Bill Clinton as “a wise and inspiring book that should be required reading for every young person seeking to find his or her place in the world and for every family hoping to give its daughters and sons the best possible start in life,” the book was selected as one of J.P. Morgan Private Bank’s summer reading list picks for 2010.

As of Wednesday, Warren Buffett tops his son on Amazon’s bestseller rankings. His authorized biography, “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,” published in 2008, is listed at the No. 19,251 position in books and No. 4 among biographies and memoirs. Peter’s “Life Is What You Make It” is listed at No. 28,251 and No. 82 among biographies and memoirs.

Read about the “Buffett Rule”—President Barack Obama’s proposal for a tax increase on wealthy Americans who earn $1 million or more—at AdvisorOne.com.

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