ONLY IN THE WORLD-HERALD
It was a chance meeting in a midtown bagel shop that led Warren Buffett to a business pact with a hometown cop who for 17 years now has handled the Oracle of Omaha's personal security.
At that time, Dan Clark was a young Weed and Seed officer patrolling Omaha's north side. He happened to lunch in the same spot as Buffett's daughter, Susie, who was bothered by breaking news that Wisconsin bank robbers had plotted to kidnap her father.
Susie Buffett asked the uniformed Clark why police wouldn't have informed her family earlier. Clark recalled telling her that he was not privy to details, but that the Buffetts should have been contacted.
Before he left, Clark offered his private security services — and shortly afterward, he was hired to protect the famed CEO of Omaha's Berkshire Hathaway.
Thus began the longtime partnership between a buff martial arts practitioner whose police assignments have been among the most dangerous, and the billionaire Buffett famous for shrewd investments and an earthy, approachable style that would make any bodyguard nervous.
This week the two native Omahans will be at their busiest: working the Berkshire stockholders gatherings expected to draw up to 40,000 from across the globe. In Buffett's shadow will be Clark and a contingent of his staff. He has a company with some 150 contracted guards and off-duty law-enforcement agents.
That's a far cry from the one-man bodyguard show that started it all.
“The first year it was me, with a protein bar in my pocket, with Mr. Buffett,” Clark recalled. “I didn't take a meal break, and I didn't sit down. By the end of the weekend, I was dog-tired.”
The Clark and Buffett paths actually had intersected a few years earlier, when the officer was directed to distribute fliers telling about a town hall policing meeting.
Now 46, Clark recalls approaching a Happy Hollow-area home where he saw that the exterior wooden door was open. He didn't know who lived there, but through the glass storm door he saw people playing bridge. Clark presented himself, prompting the man who came to the door to make his own introduction: “Hi, I'm Warren Buffett.”
“I'm thinking, ‘I can't believe he answered his own door,' ” Clark said in his first in-depth interview about his role with Buffett.
That reinforced his interest in the field of executive protection. Over time, he arranged to train with a retired Secret Service official and a State Department contractor. He amassed “reading people” skills and other investigatory techniques from his police roles and from colleagues. The research came in handy when he later ran into Susie Buffett at the Bruegger's bagel restaurant.
Since Buffett hired him in 1995, Clark has expanded protection to include measures such as security around the investor's house in 2006.
Clark said he follows his boss's lead and adjusts to his lifestyle and personality. Buffett is known for not thinking twice about plunging into the swarm of stockholders to shake hands or have a barbecue sandwich.
“We try to make our approach breathable with the client,” Clark said.
That's not to say he doesn't get anxious.
He recalled a “spooky” admirer with a “blank” stare who followed Buffett from place to place during a Berkshire gathering. Said Clark: “We employed strategies to manage him. However, he had us all concerned.”
Another time Clark swerved to avoid a car running a red light. “It was one of those reaffirming moments,” he said, “that you can never let your guard down.”
Truth be told, though, it's the crush of international media and adoring fans that keep Clark on his toes the most.
“The reality is I have protected him more from the press and crowds than from assaults.”
He recalled a backpedaling photojournalist who, in his persistence to get a good shot, rammed into and broke off the side mirror of the CEO's car. “Mr. Buffett just shook his head.”
Clark's nearly 24-year career with the Omaha Police Department began in 1986, when crack cocaine and gangs were relatively new to town and driving up violent crime, especially in and around north Omaha housing projects.
He patrolled a sprawling low-income complex nicknamed “Little Vietnam” for its bloodshed. Gangsters called him “Red,” and his efforts to quell disorder were criticized publicly by a few African-American community leaders as too aggressive.
Clark was praised by others. Among his awards displayed in his office near 75th and Pacific Streets is one from the Omaha Housing Authority, the landlord of housing projects.
“There was so much open-air drug trafficking,” Clark recalled. “I tried to do something about it.”
Along with weeding out bad seeds, Clark said he and his partner tried to build rapport with inner-city residents. They handed out police badge stickers to kids and sometimes shot hoops with them.
Clark went on to other high-risk assignments, including the SWAT, K-9, gang and narcotics teams. His was the first cruiser to reach fellow Officer Jimmy Wilson Jr. after he'd been shot and killed by gang members in 1995.
Just before Clark retired in 2009, his work with a key informant paid off. A team that included agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives intercepted more than 23 pounds of methamphetamine that drug couriers had hidden in three vehicles, including in the lower engine section of a Chevy Silverado 2500.
In 2008, Clark was named Crime Stoppers Officer of the Year for his role in taking apart two large narcotics operations. Road Trip II had him in deep disguise, gaining the trust of drug lords. He once engaged in a semi-friendly coin toss to settle a negotiation over the price of an assault weapon. (Clark won the flip, reducing the cost by $100.)
Clark had so changed his appearance for that bust — his red, short-cropped hair was dyed dark, and he had a beard and extra weight — that his own daughter backed away when he showed up to drive her home from dance class.
Since he had the security business on the side, the typically clean-shaven Clark at times met private clients at least partially in disguise. Clark may even have startled Buffett a time or two. He recalls stopping once at the investor's office, sporting a goatee and longer curly hair.
“He said, ‘Dan, just to let you know, if you hadn't said who you were, I wouldn't have recognized you.' ”
Although the Buffett guard detail doesn't typically put Clark in the same seedy company as his undercover work did, he's well aware that he's guarding the third-richest person in the world.
And danger has presented itself more than once.
Clark declined to discuss details that might reveal security strategy or leave a client vulnerable, including how much time he spends or distance he travels with Buffett. He said his company handles any need presented to it by Berkshire, from guards to drivers to investigations.
Public reports show increased investment for “personal and home security services provided for Mr. Buffett and paid by Berkshire.”
In 2008, Berkshire paid $315,709. In 2009, that rose to $344,490; and in 2010, the amount was $349,946. The company didn't list that expense before 2008.
Walt Disney spent $562,034 last year for security around President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger. American Express spent $330,000 over the past three years on home security systems for Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault; the company also spent $118,000 for security during Chenault's personal trips. The last year before the company was acquired, Anheuser-Busch Cos. spent $392,168 for personal security for then-CEO August Busch III.
The investments reflect that “risk awareness on the part of executives has changed a great deal. Corporations are much, much more aware of risks,” said Bob Hayes of the Security Executive Council, a Washington-based group that researches ways to manage business risk.
Perhaps the most notable safety threat that occurred on Clark's watch was in 2007 at Buffett's home — a modest abode when contrasted with the secluded, high-security residences of most other multibillionaires. (Buffett has lived in the house since 1958, when he bought it for $31,500.)
One of Clark's contracted guards, a Papillion police lieutenant, disarmed a camouflaged man who was carrying a fake gun and a real weapon. The intruder escaped; Clark praised his associate for repelling the attack and returning to the security team to ensure the well-being of the Buffetts.
Though Clark laughs and denies ever getting a financial tip from Buffett, he acknowledges other perks of the job — such as the time he got to meet an idol, martial arts expert and actor Chuck Norris, while at a celebrity golf event with Buffett. And he said Buffett also has offered the occasional ethics-laden advice on running a business.
Clark said he enjoys Buffett's wit and has been awed at his thought process.
“Mr Buffett is extremely focused, and there are obviously benefits that have come from it.”
When asked about Clark, Buffett said he considers him a friend and called him “terrific at what he does.”
Clark, a father of four, said he has been privy to a lot of personal situations with the Buffetts but doesn't need a contract or written agreement to know when to stay tight-lipped.
“Mr. Buffett and I have always done business on a handshake based on trust.”
The Buffett connection likely helped open doors to work with other celebrities. Among the dignitaries that Clark has protected while they were in town are Sarah Palin, actor George Clooney, then-Sen. Barack Obama and Iraqi Judge Raid Juhi al-Saedi, the former chief investigative judge for the Iraqi High Tribunal, which handled the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Just last week, workers hung new signs outside the expanded 7,000-square-foot Clark International office that houses a range of security services. The business also includes a gym for defensive tactics and other training, including martial arts for youths.
This week's Berkshire meeting, however, presents Clark with his largest annual task.
His associates are busy climbing through ductwork, examining catwalks, sweeping meeting rooms. Security guards will be dispatched throughout the city. Clark also coordinates with area law enforcement agencies.
The pre-planning phase grows each year with the crowd. But one thing hasn't changed, Clark said.
Buffett, now 80, still walks quickly, “can change directions on a dime” and keeps Clark's guys hopping.
“It pays to be in shape,” Clark said — referring to the bodyguards, of course.
This report includes material from Cox Newspapers.
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