One hard-to-believe fact about Warren Buffett is that there are lots of people out there who have never heard of him. Of course, lots more have heard of him -- though they may only know that he's a business guy, and a rather rich one.
Whether you've heard of him or not, you'll probably be surprised by at least some of the information below. There's a lot we can learn from Buffett, some of which can make us wealthier.
1. He can toss a newspaper very accurately
At most of his recent annual meetings for shareholders, Warren Buffett has held a newspaper-tossing contest -- because he's good at it. That's because one of his earliest jobs, long before he took the reins of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.B) (NYSE: BRK.A), was delivering newspapers. He didn't just have a regular single route, either. Indeed, by the time he was looking into colleges, he had delivered some 600,000 newspapers (according to Roger Lowenstein in the biography, Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist).
2. He's been making money for a long time
Many illustrious people are late bloomers, coming into their own in their 40s, 50s, or later. Not Buffett. His wealth is all his own -- not inherited -- and he started earning it very early. According to Lowenstein, when he was only six, he spent time on a family vacation buying six-packs of Coca-Cola for $0.25 each and then selling single bottles for $0.05 apiece, earning a nickel on each six-pack. Remember those 600,000 newspapers? That delivered more than $5,000 to him, which in today's dollars, would be more than $58,000 -- not bad for a teenager! He was actually earning more than many of his teachers when he was in high school -- and he used some of his earnings to buy 40 acres of farmland.
3. He's a bit of a psychic
When Buffett is referred to as the "Oracle of Omaha," it's because of his investment prowess. But he actually can be rather prescient, like when he reportedly said: "I always knew I was going to be rich. I don't think I ever doubted it for a minute." It wasn't just a feeling, either. Buffett arrived at his conviction in part after visiting casinos during his honeymoon. He noted that there were lots of well-dressed, seemingly smart and successful people in them, playing various games of chance that offered very poor odds. That made him realize he could do much better by making much better financial decisions.
4. He reads way more than you think
As you might imagine, Warren Buffett reads a lot -- books, newspapers, annual reports, and more. You might not appreciate just how much he reads, though. Whereas other CEOs have days filled with meetings and travel and many other distractions, Buffett spends around 80% of his workday reading and thinking. Back in 2007, CNBC's Becky Quick noted that he reads a lot, "and quickly" -- and mentioned a daily consumption of six newspapers.
He doesn't just read the annual reports of companies he owns or is thinking about owning, either. He has explained: "If we owned stock in a company, in an industry, and there are eight other companies that are in the same industry ... I want to be on the mailing list for the reports for the other eight because I can't understand how my company is doing unless I understand what the other eight are doing."
By the way -- if you want to be a voracious reader of financial fare, you'll find a lot to read at Fool.com, and lots of great advice in classic books such as Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Philip Fisher, One Up On Wall Street by Peter Lynch, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John Bogle, and The Little Book That Beats the Market by Joel Greenblatt.
5. He's funny
Most coverage of Warren Buffett focuses on his investing and thoughts about the business world, but those who follow him closely know that he's a funny guy, too. Here are some of his quips:
- On whether he would like to pay for an acquisition with Berkshire stock instead of cash: "...I would rather prep for a colonoscopy than issue Berkshire shares."
- On getting married: "my wife lowered her expectations."
- At his 2016 shareholder meeting he noted: "One surprise guest: I think my youngest great-grandchild -- [he] will be about seven months old -- is also here today. If he happens to break out crying a lot, don't let it bother you, it's just his mother explaining to him my views on inherited wealth."
- On the dangers of overdiversification, Buffett quoted Billy Rose: "If you have a harem of forty women, you never get to know any of them very well."
6. He's generous -- very generous
If you follow Buffett at all, you surely know that he's generous. But you may not appreciate just how generous he is, and in how many ways. Here are three: Let's start with him pledging to give away the vast majority of his wealth, beginning in 2006. Every year since then he has donated billions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett gave away $2.9 billion in 2020, and $3.6 billion in 2018, with his annual gifts totaling about $37 billion so far. It's notable that unlike many philanthropists, he didn't feel the need to set up a foundation in his own name. Instead of reinventing the wheel, he just gives to his friend's impressive foundation, which tackles issues such as global health and education in the U.S.
Next, Buffett auctions off a meal with himself every year, and winners have bid more than $1 million for many years now. The winner in 2019 forked over $4,567,888, with proceeds going to a favorite charity of Buffett's late wife -- the Glide Foundation. (The 2020 auction was postponed due to the pandemic.) Buffett also teamed up with the Gateses to create the Giving Pledge, getting billionaires to commit to giving away the majority of their wealth to charity. So far, the list of signees includes names such as Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, Sheryl Sandberg, Reed Hastings, Carl Icahn, Mark Zuckerberg, and Ted Turner, among others.
7. His net worth tops many countries' GDPs
Warren Buffett's net worth is estimated to be near $87 billion, per Forbes. (It would be far greater than that had he not given away so much already.) To put that $87 billion into context, it's enough to have him recently ranking in sixth place on Forbes' list of billionaires, a bit below Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Jeff Bezos in the No. 1 spot and Bill Gates at No. 3. It's also more than the 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) of countries such as Ghana and Bulgaria -- and more than twice those of Bolivia and Tunisia.
8. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, is huge
While Buffett's own net worth is massive, the market value of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is far greater. Its market value was recently about $534 billion -- more than the GDP of countries such as Sweden and Argentina. Putting that value in the context of major global companies, here is a recent list of the top 10, ranked by market capitalization, with Berkshire Hathaway in ninth place:
Recent Market Cap.
9. His investment record is even better than you think
While you might fully believe that Buffett's track record is impressive, take a gander at just how impressive it is: Between 1965 and 2019, Berkshire Hathaway shares increased in value by more than 2.7 million percent. On a compounded basis, that's an annual gain of 20.3%, a bit better than the S&P 500's (still solid) gain of 19,784% over that period (10% annually).
If you started with only $1,000 and you never added more to your investment, and it grew by 20.3% annually for 54 years, you'd have more than $21 million. That's a very good growth rate.
There's much more you might learn about Warren Buffett and his company, Berkshire Hathaway. You might even consider investing in Berkshire. It probably won't grow as briskly these days as when it was smaller and nimbler, but it does look well positioned to keep growing over the years ahead -- even when 90-year-old Buffett relinquishes the reins.
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