Amount donated: In excess of $50bn
Philanthropic causes: Education, family planning
Region of philanthropic focus: North America, Europe
Ranking: 3rd richest billionaire in the world (Forbes, 2016)
Net worth: $68bn (Forbes, 2016)
Source of wealth: Investments
One of the most successful investors in the world, Warren Buffett has pledged to donate most of his vast fortune to philanthropic causes.
Born in 1930, Buffett showed an interest in business at a young age; before he left school he was making money as a door-to-door salesman and as the owner of several pinball machines in his home town of Omaha, Nebraska, as well as investing his savings in a business owned by his father, a politician.
Buffett was heavily influenced by the economist and investor Benjamin Graham (1894-1976), having described his purchase of Graham’s 1949 book The Intelligent Investor as the best investment he ever made. “The basic ideas of investing are to look at stocks as business, use the market’s fluctuations to your advantage,” Buffett has said. “That’s what Ben Graham taught us.”
A millionaire by his early thirties, he invested in and soon took over the textile manufacturer Berkshire Hathaway. By the mid-1960s it expanded it into insurance, eventually becoming a multinational conglomerate which Buffett still controls at the age of 85. Now the fifth biggest company in the world with a market value of $354.8bn, Berkshire Hathaway owns a diverse range of businesses such as BNSF, GEICO and Fruit of the Loom, as well as minority holdings in companies such as Coca-Cola, GM, IBM and Kraft Heinz.
Buffett had often stated a wish to give most of his fortune to charity as he did not wish for his children to inherit the bulk of his wealth: “I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing.” In July 2006 he donated just over $30bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – the largest-ever charitable donation. He has followed this up with annual donations to the value of 5% of his remaining stock in Berkshire Hathaway; the two most recent were $3bn in 2014 and $2.8bn in 2015. The money is split between the Gates’ foundation and four foundations run by the Buffett Family.
Buffett’s decision to donate to the Gates’ foundation was influenced by the death of his first wife Susan in 2004; Buffett had presumed that he would die first, following which she would oversee the distribution of his fortune to charity via the Buffett Foundation which they had established in 1964. This changed with Susan’s death; although the Buffett Foundation received $2.5bn from her estate (it was renamed the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation in her memory), Buffett realised that it was not big enough to deal with the sheer amount of money he had in mind – unlike the Gates’ foundation, which already operated on a suitable scale.
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation provides financial support to family planning and abortion access groups in North America and Europe, in addition to support for students from low-income families in Nebraska. The other three Buffett foundations were established by Buffett’s children. His daughter Susan heads the Sherwood Foundation (formerly the Susan A. Buffett Foundation) which primarily supports social justice initiatives in Nebraska. Son Howard runs the Howard G. Buffett Foundation which invests in food security, conflict mitigation and public safety. The NoVo Foundation, headed by younger son Peter and his wife Jennifer, works towards transformations in global society, from cultural dominance and exploitation to equality and partnership.
In June 2010 Buffett was instrumental in establishing the Giving Pledge. Alongside Bill and Melinda Gates, Buffett contacted 70 of the 80 richest families in the USA to ask them to get involved in philanthropy by pledging to donate at least 50% of their wealth to charity. “We’re hoping that America, which is the most generous society on Earth, becomes even more generous over time,” said Buffett. Among those who signed up were the film director George Lucas, hotel heir Barron Hilton and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Buffett married his second wife, Astrid Menks, in 2006 (he had in fact been living with her for some time, he and Susan having separated but not divorced in the 1970s). Known for being frugal in his personal life, he still lives in the Omaha house that he bought in the 1950s.
Sourced from biography.com
Jeff Bailey, ‘Buffett children emerge as a force in charity’ (New York Times, 2nd July 2006)
‘Warren Buffett makes $2.84bn donation to Gates Foundation and charities’ (Guardian, 7th July 2015)