Both will be remembered forever.
On the eve of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, I decided to write this article about my favorite capitalist and philanthropist, Warren Buffett.
When I travel overseas, I meet a lot of business people, including CEO’s, investment advisors, entrepreneurs and all sorts of people. When they ask me where I live and I mention my roots in Omaha, Nebraska, they always ask me if I know Warren Buffett. I tell them yes. Even in Vietnam, a successful entrepreneur knew more about Warren Buffett than I did. Some of them called him the “Oracle of Omaha.”. In addition, I tell them that I call him the “Mahatma Gandhi of Capitalism.” They ask me how I came up with that comparison.
I did not know Mahatma Gandhi, but I saw the movie and have done a lot of research on him and his life. He came from a business family, got a law degree in England and then practiced law in South Africa. After his failed law practice in Bombay, he went to South Africa defending Indian business people there. When he saw the discrimination against Indian and African people in South Africa, he decided to take up the cause of equality for all human beings. Then he came back to India and was the leading force of peaceful resistance behind the freedom movement of India.
When India became independent of Great Britain in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi could have had any title he wanted. He could have been the President of India, the Prime Minister of India, Emperor of India, or anything he wanted. However, he would have none of that. Once India became free, he lived a very simple life. He made his own clothes, did not live in big mansions, or live the life of luxury.
Mahatma Gandhi was anything but hypocritical. He practiced what he preached. Many world leaders who have been instrumental in the independence of their country eventually became Prime Minister, President, or held a powerful position. Later on these leaders accumulated a lot of wealth and power. However, Mahatma Gandhi made sure that this type of power and wealth did not take over his beliefs and principles. Even his children did not acquire any wealth based on their father’s position.
In the same way, Warren Buffett, who is the second-richest person in the country, a great investor and a great businessman has never partaken in the fruits of his material success. He plans to give all his wealth away. For example, he does not own a string of mansions. He still lives in the same house that he has had for 40 years. His compensation at $100,000 per year is the lowest in the corporate world. You could never accuse him of living a luxury lifestyle. He still buys two-year-old cars and drives them himself.
At a recent convention of NetJets owners where Warren was speaking, people were shocked to learn that he did not even have a housekeeper. His wife does all the housework, cooks their own meals and cleans their own dishes. Warren believes in creating wealth, but at the end of the day he believes in giving it all back as charity.
He also knows that he can’t run a charitable foundation because that is not his primary strength. So he decided to give all of his money to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, because Bill Gates has built a great organization that is conducting charitable work all over the world.
Warren Buffett has not given any of his wealth to his children like many other wealthy people have done. His three children happen to be down to earth and simple, law-abiding citizens. You will never see any kind of scandal surrounding his children. All three of them have been as charitable as their father.
The other common trait between Gandhi and Warren Buffett is their passion for writing. Both of them are prolific writers and do so in a very simple way, so even a 6th grader can understand it.
This world is full of rich people and leaders who do not practice what they preach. Even Al Gore (winner of a Nobel Prize) who talks about global warming lives in a big house, flies around in a big jet, and does not practice what he preaches. However, Warren is not like that. His simple lifestyle, wisdom and strong support of free enterprise and American capitalism make him such a darling of every person in the world. He uses NetJets, but only for his business in order to save his valuable time. If he had it his way, he would probably fly Southwest.
If you met Warren Buffett, you would never know that he is worth a gazillion dollars. He has such a self-deprecating sense of humor and the ability to be funny. It would amaze you at how such a wealthy businessman can be so funny and down to earth.
Warren is also especially good with young people. When I called Warren and told him that I had some students coming from IIT Kharagpur in India, and they would like to meet him, he readily spared time to meet with them. He even gave them four hours of his time. Can you imagine these poor students from India meeting one of the richest men in the world and spending time with him? He has done this many times and is always willing to meet students from all over the world and give them his wisdom, spend time with them and be funny with them. It’s a quality that is hard to find amongst rich and successful business people.
When he met my son, who told him he had two shares in Berkshire Hathaway, Warren said “between my ownership and your ownership, I think we can control Berkshire Hathaway.” My son was absolutely flabbergasted by that comment.
Warren is always willing to have his picture taken with anyone who stops him for his autograph or picture. I don’t think he has ever said no. He is always willing to give his time to help other people. This is why I call him the “Mahatma Gandhi of Capitalism.” He has been a big influence in my own philanthropic activities in my village.
I only pray that Warren Buffett lives a very long and healthy life, because he is a beacon of hope to free enterprise all over the world.
If there is a difference between Warren Buffett and Mahatma Gandhi, it is their eating habits. Mahatma Gandhi was a vegetarian and did not eat beef, while Warren Buffett loves his beef steaks.