Another Warren Buffett — Howard Warren Buffett, to be exact — is headed for Omaha.
The son of farmer and philanthropist Howard Graham Buffett and a grandson of super-investor Warren Edward Buffett most recently worked for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and the Obama administration in Washington, D.C.
Politics comes naturally to H.W. Buffett, whose great-grandfather, Howard Homan Buffett, was a four-term U.S. congressman from Omaha in the 1940s and '50s.
Now the 26-year-old Omaha native plans to return to the city that his family left for an Illinois farm when he was 9.
“I want to start a family here,” Buffett said last week as he drank decaf (he's trying to cut down on caffeine) at Crane Coffee at 14th and Farnam Streets. “I'm ready to come home.”
He is engaged to Lili Thomas, 24, who plans to complete her degree next spring in economics and philosophy at Columbia University.
She is from Miami but has spent many summers in Ogallala, Neb., where her family has a wheat farm. Her father, a former pilot who started a real estate business in Florida, now operates the family farm with other relatives.
The young couple already have an interesting history.
Buffett proposed to Thomas earlier this year with the help of Secret Service agents, who ensured the couple's privacy in the White House Rose Garden while he popped the question.
The wedding still is a year or so away — Buffett is starting a temporary U.S. Defense Department assignment to improve agriculture in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries — but the couple recently began compiling a guest list as they rode in a self-steering tractor on a South African farm his father owns for agricultural research.
The two met briefly at a fundraiser in June 2008. Last year, Thomas recognized him when she saw a photo of father and son in a magazine article promoting a conference on no-till farming, to be held last January in Des Moines.
“I met him!” Thomas recalled telling her father.
When they saw each other at the conference, Buffett said, “we just knew.”
In recent days, Buffett has met with small groups of Omahans, said Jeff Slobotski, a founder of the Silicon Prairie News blog and a sponsor of recent Big Omaha conferences on technology and entrepreneurship.
“It's a matter of introducing him to some folks in the community that are already doing great work,” Slobotski said. “We'll see where it goes down the line.
“Right now it's more just kind of networking and connecting him with some folks. I think it's great. He grew up here, but he didn't go to high school or college here. That makes it a little bit hard to come back to a town where everybody knows everybody.”
Still, he has deep roots in Omaha, given his family history, Slobotski said.
“It's not every day you find somebody eager to come back to Nebraska with the résumé and background he has.”
Buffett shares some of the Buffett family interest in music, participating in show choir while in high school, singing in barbershop quartets and even playing a little piano. But it's the family interest in social needs of the world that motivate him more.
He has worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and a former board member of the FEED Foundation, which provides food to needy children around the world.
He worked for the United Nations' Office of Partnerships, advising on private foundation and public charity development, while studying at Columbia University for a master's degree in public administration and finance. His bachelor's degree from Northwestern University is in communications and political science.
He went to work for the Obama campaign in Chicago after his Columbia graduation. He won a spot on the Obama transition team, thanks in part to having a blue wristband that gave him entree to the Obama family tent (think Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Oprah) for the president-elect's victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago on the night of Election Day in 2008.
The White House job has just ended, and last week Buffett started working for the Defense Department. He landed that position after accompanying his father to Afghanistan in February at the invitation of Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the military forces there.
The visit was in conjunction with the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, which advises the Defense Department on Afghanistan's agriculture industry.
Monday, Buffett will give a speech on innovation at the Mashable & 92Y Social Good Summit, a U.N.-related event in New York City.
In July, he organized a meeting of about 70 social entrepreneurs from around the country, including some from Omaha, as part of his work as a domestic policy adviser in the White House's Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.
Buffett said the conference's “call to action” inspired him to see what can be done in Omaha by people with drive and resources, many of whom already are hard at work here.
“I know there are challenges that exist in Omaha,” he said. “We're a group of young, energetic, resourceful folks. Where do we want to focus our energy?”
He also is making connections among the city's not-so-young, including officials of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and universities in Omaha and Lincoln.
Buffett and Thomas plan to look for work in Omaha when they move here sometime next year.
“I would need a job with money,” he said, true to the Buffett philosophy that family members must make their own way in the world. “There's no reward in idleness.”
Buffett said his great-grandfather made his mark through politics, his grandfather through finance and his father through philanthropy.
“They set the best examples that I could ever hope for,” he said.
He said he has no plans to run for political office but would consider “whatever platform is going to allow me to improve our community.”
His goals, he said, mirror those of his forebears: to be happy and to make the world a better place.
“My goal in life is to do as much good as possible.”
Having a famous name may give him extra access, but Slobotski said Buffett's family ties are the second question that the Omahans have asked.
The first question, Slobotski said, is, “What have you done?”
“In this case, he's got a pretty extensive track record. It'll be fun to have them in town,” he said of Buffett and Thomas.
“We're excited to take what he's learned and what he's built and see what we can do, putting something together, helping to support existing projects and work to continue to make Omaha an even better city.
“It's too early to say what the exact outcome would be.”
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