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Wealth management – the Buffett way

Roger Marolt

I’ve seen the ultimate extreme stunt. Picture this: A man stands at the brink of trying something that has never been done before. He’ll give more than any man has ever given to accomplish this trick. It will take everything he’s got. He’s been planning this moment for decades. The whole enchilada is at stake and he could loose it all. He takes a deep breath and then … does!He loses everything!Well, more accurately he gives it away. With the stroke of his pen, everything he has is gone. Warren Buffett, the world’s second-wealthiest man, signs a check and throws his entire $31 billion fortune to charity!Can you imagine the feeling? He didn’t give until it hurt. He had the courage to give until it felt incredible! It has to be an outrageous rush! You live to be 75, and you give away everything you’ve worked your entire life to amass. It makes an endorphin rush look like a spritz of cool mist.And his justification for doing something so rash: he thought “all the way along, it should go back to society.”So, you’re thinking “big deal, anyone could do that.” Well, then, why hasn’t anyone?Think about the physical makeup it would require to pull this off. You’d need a heart so tender that it aches every time it’s touched, cojones made of tempered steel and vision strong enough to see the world for generations to come.And brains, too. Sure, people have given it all away before, but it’s usually after they die. There’s no fear factor in that. Why not get a little recognition while you’re still alive, while it still matters? It’s got to be more enjoyable than a fleet of yachts. So, call him selfish.More incredible may be Buffett’s humility. The guy made his fortune because people believed that he knew more about investing than they did. He’s known as the Oracle of Omaha, for crying out loud! Maybe it’s not so ironic then that he is deferring the philanthropic wisdom of using his gift to the Gates Foundation, administered by Bill and Melinda Gates. The complex rationale Buffett gave for this move was that Bill Gates is “godawful smart.”The guy is incredible!One of the greatest value investors of all time apparently doesn’t see the worth of opulent living. He lives in Omaha, Neb. in a house he purchased 40 years ago for $31,500. (One can only imagine what he thinks of time-shares.) His meal of choice is a burger and a Coke. In the age of scandalous executive compensation, his annual salary is $100,000. The only chink in his down-to-earth armor appears to be a luxurious jet, a Gulfstream IV-SP. Even that he has nicknamed “The Indefensible.”The man who has amassed the penultimate gargantuan net worth in the world partially by having an uncanny ability for spotting waste and inefficiency is leaving nothing to his children! Perhaps he knows what we’ll never convince ourselves of: The gifts of fortunes to children have ruined more lives than they have furthered. We needn’t look far for evidence of this right here in Aspen, the land of the dwindling trust fund. Ours is a town where the offspring of genius, ingenuity and hard work congregate to spend copious amounts of money and time because it is the only thing they have been taught to do, the only means they have been given to display their worth.I guess the Buffett kids will just have to make due with the satisfaction they will gain in accomplishing things on their own, and get used to their dad being known as a true-life superhero.Buffett obviously knows the true value of money. It’s a bunch of moldy-smelling paper and cheap alloys. It’s not what it is, but what you do with it that matters. If you die with bales of it in the bank you are no richer than the guy in the next plot over.Buffett has played the game. He’s been around the board and passed “Go” so many times that they’ve engraved his name on the “Free parking” space. In appreciation, he pulls all of those score-keeping tokens we call “dollars” from underneath his corner of the board, throws them into the Community Chest, pushes his chair back, and wishes good luck to the rest of us who are going to keep playing.I wonder how many of us have made deals with God, promising to be benevolent with our wealth, if only it will come to us. “I’ll give the first thousand dollars of my commissions to charity, if you use me as your real estate broker.” “If I ever make a million bucks, I’ll keep only what I need to live and give the rest away.” “When I get the first advance on my book, I’ll give half … check that, 25 percent to good causes.” But, the definitions of “charity,” “good causes” and “only what I need” change with success. It’s easy to “give it all away” when we have nothing yet to give. It’s much harder to be generous with what you have when you are holding it in your hand. The only thing more difficult than making a million dollars may be to give a million dollars away after you have it.I don’t know if Warren Buffett made any such deal with God 50 years ago when he began accumulating his fortune by investing $105,000, but if he did, apparently the All-Knowing trusted him.We lament that there are no more new frontiers to explore. We believe that there are no more Wests to be won and all the Mount Everests have been summited. Yet, Warren Buffett has proved us wrong. He has shown that frontiers are finite only in our blindness to spot them. He’s shown us that there are still boundaries to be traveled beyond. He has done something that few of us believed mortal man had the capability to do. That may prove to be the most important impact of his gift.Roger Marolt is stunned, as usual. You can try reviving him at roger@maroltllp.com


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