Sometimes the media is so funny I have to laugh out loud. Now, right now, the media drubbing of my pal, Warren Buffett, is just such a time. Mr. Buffett, the second or third richest man in the nation, is much in the news because one of his top lieutenants might possibly have done illegal insider trading. That man, David Sokol, whom I have not met, apparently bought stock in a chemical company Mr. Buffett would soon buy for his immense holding company, Berkshire Hathaway. This was apparently a clear violation of Berkshire’s rules, if not a violation of federal law.
Now, commentators are after the 80-year-old wizard Buffett’s scalp. They are accusing him of being soft towards his former colleague — Mr. Sokol has resigned — of being confused about his management style, of being a cheapskate, and of general incompetence.
Now, let me place my pitiful cards on the table. I am a VERY VERY small stockholder in Berkshire Hathaway. Mr. Buffett has bought me dinner at an extremely modest Italian restaurant in Omaha three or four times. Although he is as far removed from me in terms of wealth as can be imagined, he has treated me with respect and kindness and I consider him a friend.
But more than that, Warren Buffett is about as good a friend as an investor can have. His stock was trading at about $17 in the mid-sixties. Now, unsplit, it’s about $127,000. His returns for his shareholders are about thirty some times the returns for the S&P 500 in that time period.
For this, he gets a wage of $100,000 a year, which is basically nothing in his world. He has forever taken away the financial worries of families who invested early with him and stayed with him. (That does not include me.) He has already announced that he plans to give almost all of his fortune of about $30 some billion to charity.
He has never been accused of a crime, as far as I know, and finance is my beat. People think I’m smart or at least fairly smart. Mr. Buffett is smarter and more alert at 80 than I was at 18.
Obviously, someone close to him did something questionable. It is possible that, in hindsight, Mr. Buffett might have done things a bit differently — or maybe not. But the whole world of capitalism is blessed to have this man — who started his working career as a newspaper delivery boy and golf caddy –basically giving us his incredibly valuable time and brilliance for free. In a world of charlatans and chiselers in the CEO suite, Warren Buffett may be the classiest act we’ve ever seen. I wish more of the stocks I own were run by people like him — but there is no one like him.