Pollywood: Warren Buffett’s Surplus Wealth

by John Arundel

Buffett, $500,000 grant highlights of Washington economic club anniversary.

By John Arundel

Economic Club of Washington President David Rubenstein chats up fellow billionaire Warren Buffett at the club's 25th anniversary celebration. (Photo by Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

Warren Buffett may be the most successful investor of the 20th century.He may be consistently ranked among the world’s wealthiest people (world’s third richest in 2011) and ranked by TIME as one of the most influential people in the world.

But the Sage of Omaha made one thing clear to the 1,200 attendees of The Economic Club of Washington‘s 25th anniversary last month at the Marriott Wardman Park: “My surplus wealth has no utility to me.”

In keeping with Buffett’s philanthropic ways (he’s pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune primarily through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), the club made the announcement of $500,000 in grants to 10 worthy Washington-area nonprofits.

The club considered a total of 138 different community organizations as possible recipients of the grants.

The 10 organizations selected to receive the money were the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, KIPP DC, Maya Angelou Schools, Brainfood, BUILD DC, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, Jubilee JumpStart/Jubilee Housing, Latin American Youth Center, Urban Alliance and Year Up National Capital Region.

Representatives of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, including Executive Director Kent Barnekov (center) and Apprentice Dearndrey Mobley (right) accept a $50,000 grant from The Economic Club. (Photo by Sam Kittner/kittner.com)

The biggest highlight of the anniversary celebration, also attended by Vernon Jordan Jr. and former Sen. George Mitchell, was the free-ranging discussion between Buffet and David Rubenstein, The Economic Club’s president, and co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group.

The two billionaire investors  discussed the economy and Buffett’s rise to billionaire status, as well as his philanthropic efforts. Rubenstein asked Buffett multiple questions about the economy, with Buffett declaring there’s little likelihood of a recession. Buffet also discussed how he achieved his success, to which he mostly credited to his voracious reading habit. He also mentioned what his most endearing acquisition was — GEICO — and who his successor might be.

“You’re not on the short list, David,” Buffett chuckled. But when Rubenstein presented Buffett with gifts at the end of the evening, including a letter jacket from his high school alma mater Woodrow Wilson, Buffett joked, “You may get on that short list.”
Buffett also mentioned his late wife Susan, who he said was also a big believer in giving to those less fortunate. He vowed to her to be a “compounding machine” when it came to money. “I told her, ‘I’ll pile it up and you unpile it,'” he said.

For a man who’s often been called the greatest investor of the 20th century, Buffett was humble about his mistakes. “I’m no genius. But I’m smart in spots. And I stay around those spots,” he said.

Representatives from 10 D.C.-area nonprofits received generation grants from Warren Buffet and the Economic Club of Washington. (Photo by Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

At the end of the discussion, Buffett received a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence as a personal gift from Rubenstein, who also owns a 13th-century copy of the Magna Carta.

The Declaration was inscribed: “Warren Buffet, a rare modern man with the essential traits of our founding fathers: great wisdom, courage and leadership. And also great wealth.”

“I’m having the time of my life,” Buffett said. “I get to do every day exactly what I like to do with people who I love and who seem to like me pretty well. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

UPDATED: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Warren Buffet awarded $500,000 to 10 Washington-area nonprofits, and that Vernon Jordan Jr. and Sen. George Mitchell were part of the committee that decided which nonprofits would receive the funds. The Economic Club of Washington awarded the funds and decided which groups would receive them. Jordan and Mitchell were not part of the committee.

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