I met the wealthiest man in the world when I was 22 years old.
Warren Buffett, born in 1930 Nebraska, the “Oracle of Omaha,” is renowned as one of the world’s most talented investors and money managers, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and has consistently been ranked among the world’s wealthiest people for at least the last 20 years (frequently in the top 2 or 3 for the last several years running).
In 2008, Forbes ranked Buffett as the richest person in the world with a net worth somewhere around $62 billion.
Buffett started out with the money he earned as a newspaper boy to buy his first income-producing assets, and despite his now immense fortune, he still lives in a home he purchased for $31,000 in the 1950s and embraces a frugal lifestyle.
In 2006, I learned that apparently Sacramento State University’s President, Alex Gonzalez, didn’t know Buffett’s reputation, and his office was ignoring calls from Buffett’s staff. I had long been an admirer of Buffett’s approach to value investing, as well as the wisdom of his vice chairman Charlie Munger (who’s writings on mental models are definitely worth a read).
I passed some information on to my boss and the Dean of the College of Business Administration where I worked.
A few weeks later, I’d worked with my supervisor Thomas Matlock to organize a meet and greet event for our Executive MBA students, and I had the opportunity to meet Warren myself briefly, shortly after his announcement in 2006 that he’d be giving away 85 percent of his fortune via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The College of Business was invited to a special reception with Warren Buffett in Rocklin, California.
Reprinted from our Business Futures Magazine, Volume 26, Fall 2006:
College of Business Administration Meets Fortune 100’s “Oracle of Omaha”
A 16-member group of faculty, staff, students and community business leaders from the College of Business Administration attended an “Exclusive Meet and Greet” on July 20, 2006 with Warren Buffett.
The reception and the ribbon-cutting ceremony that followed marked the official grand opening of the first California showroom for home furnishers RC Willey. Buffet, second in wealth only to Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, is the CEO and Chair of the Board of Berkshire Hathaway, which purchased RC Willey in 1995. The legendary investor and philanthropist was in the area to support the opening at the store’s new Rocklin location and took the opportunity to meet some of the community.
“Sacramento business was privileged to have Warren Buffet visit the region,” CBA Dean Sanjay Varshney said. “A business leader of his caliber wanting to meet with educators—and students—is a reflection of his character and humility. He enthusiastically chatted with our students and faculty, taking time to pose for pictures with each individual. This was truly an exciting opportunity to meet with the most successful investor on Wall Street—the Oracle of Omaha himself!”
Dean Varshney and his assistant Thomas Matlock were accompanied to the event by Christopher Cady, President, Pulte Homes Corporation; Mitzi Caycendeo, Chipset Planning Analyst, Intel Corporation (EMBA student); Matt Cologna, VP Industrial Services Group, Grubb and Ellis; Karna Gocke, Associate Physician, UC Davis Medical Center (EMBA student); Kimberly Harrington, Sac State HR Training & Development; Chris Higdon, President and CEO, California Moving Systems; Earl King, VP/Branch Manager, Fidelity Investments (EMBA student); Cody McKibben, Administrative Support Assistant, CBA; Monoo Prasad, Senior Project Manager, Ebay; Tim Ray, Executive Director, External Affairs for Northern California, AT&T; Randy Sater, Senior VP, Teichert Land Company; David Snyder, Director of Economic Development for Placer County; Denver Travis, Professor, CBA; and Chiang Wang, Interim Associate Dean for Graduate and External Programs, CBA.
I can’t recall the words we exchanged verbatim, but I will always remember the impression Warren made on me. That moment he gave my hand a firm shake, and looked me in the eyes with a smile.
Though I was starstruck at the time, he was a surprisingly approachable and down-to-earth man. I asked him what advice he had for a young clueless college student who was interested in business but had no idea where to start.
In those short few minutes I had to interact with him, his attitude left a lifelong impression on me. He doesn’t have an entourage; no bodyguards; no driver. He doesn’t spend much money on toys. His idea of happiness is being able to watch his basketball games on a big screen TV in his sweatpants…
And it taught me that, this legendary business tycoon, who is idolized by many, is not some lofty superhuman god. He is still just a man, and a humble one at that. Warren Buffett looked me in the eyes with a sincerity that revealed, while he is very accomplished and in-demand, he still has respect and time for someone just starting out in life.
His tips for me essentially boiled down to:
1. Never stop learning.
Buffett was rejected by Harvard University in 1950. Maybe he just recognized the potential in a young nobody who, at the time, was desperate to break into Stanford University without the typical pedigree many ivy league students have.
Whether through formal schooling or self-guided learning, he started by admonishing me never to stop learning and reading. Like many hugely successful people, Warren is a voracious reader, who has estimated at times he spends up to 80% of his workday reading, 5 or more hours per day.
He was once speaking at the Columbia University School of Business when students asked what was the biggest key to success that he could share with the class? He held up a stack of reports and trade publications he’d brought with him and said: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
2. Find something you absolutely love doing.
I remember very clearly he stressed the importance of finding my own thing that I enjoyed, and just focus on that. As he often does, he discourages copycats and reinforces how not everybody is cut out best to follow his exact path to success. Not everybody is great at finance or investment, and therefore they’re not going to necessarily have the same energy and consistency behind their actions as Buffett would. But everybody can find something they love to do.
In a 2006 CNBC interview, “The Billionaire Next Door”, he was asked “What is the Warren Buffett secret to success?”
His response: “If people get to my age and they have the people love them that they want to have love them, they’re successful. It doesn’t make any difference if they’ve got a thousand dollars in the bank or a billion dollars in the bank… Success is really doing what you love and doing it well. It’s as simple as that. I’ve never met anyone doing that who doesn’t feel like a success. And I’ve met plenty of people who have not achieved that and whose lives are miserable.”
“Really getting to do what you love to do everyday—that’s really the ultimate luxury. And particularly when you get to do it with terrific people around you.”
3. Start now
As far as wealth, while he’d made it clear not everybody is going to be the next Warren Buffett doing the same things he had done, he simply said, “start right now, just do whatever you can.”
Like reading, the main principle of wealth building that Buffett emphasizes is the power of compound interest — or how the simple fact is that when you start saving outweighs how much you save. The more years you stay invested in something, and leave your capital untouched, it can add up to a large sum, even if you never invest another dime.
I’ve carried these lessons with me until today.
Though I don’t keep up with Warren’s 5 hours a day, I spend a very hefty chunk of my personal time reading, watching documentaries, going through training courses, and researching topics for the blog.
I’ve certainly learned a tremendous amount more in my post-university, self-directed education, in areas that impact my business, my wellbeing and my bank account far more than most subjects in school, and I’ve enjoyed it more.
Though it’s taken me many years to hone in specifically on the things that I truly love doing with my time, I have made the sacrifices to build my life and my business around my own interests. I’ve learned to rely on my own skills and resourcefulness to make a living since I quit my job in 2007, and with years of practice, failure, learning, and trying again, I’ve finally built a business where I’m fortunate to do work that is deeply fulfilling, and makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning.
I’m not a rich man by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe I have met Warren’s definition of success: I enjoy my role in the world, what I get to do, and I am surrounded by my favorite people. I have invested in the right things to create a life of my own design, to create incredible personal freedom and flexibility in my career, and I continue to make sacrifices to invest in my own business above everything else — constantly reinvesting in my own platform that allows me to produce new income streams.
If I hadn’t shook hands with such a jolly, generous billionaire at such a young age, who knows, my life could have gone very differently.
I credit Warren Buffett for showing me it’s possible to march to your own beat, as opposed to following the typical template life path, and still manage to pull off incredible accomplishments.
Now I live in a beautiful tropical paradise with my wife and son, I’ve traveled over 35 countries, experienced more fabulous memories than I will ever be able to remember, teamed up with a stunningly beautiful young woman, and become a father to an amazing son. I am surrounded by fascinating people and supportive friends, and every day I get to spend my time with people I love.
It took me many years of near impossible struggle, but I’d say I’ve managed to manifest a very wealthy life. Thanks Warren.
Lesson learned: If the wealthiest investor and philanthropist in the world grew an astounding business from just a few dollars from his paper route, just maybe you can too.
Also recommended: How to Think Like Warren Buffett