Deja Gregory's question made it through to Warren Buffett, and she was surprised at the answer.
The 14-year-old member of Girls Inc. of Omaha asked Buffett what she should do to improve herself, a question relayed to Buffett by interviewer Becky Quick during a 40-minute question-and-answer session at a Monday fundraising luncheon at CenturyLink Center Omaha.
About 30 girls attended the luncheon and got to meet Buffett. A dozen of their questions were relayed to him during the program.
"There's nothing like reading," Buffett told Gregory at first. (Of course, she thought. I already read a lot.)
But then Buffett emphasized the importance of being able to communicate your ideas, and Gregory hadn't thought about that before.
If you learn to communicate verbally and in writing, Buffett said, "your value goes up at least 50 percent. If you can't communicate, it's like winking at a girl in the dark."
He said the $100 Dale Carnegie public speaking course he took as a young man was perhaps the most valuable lesson he ever learned, and his Carnegie certificate is the only "degree" hung on the wall at work at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., where he is chairman and CEO.
Afterward, Gregory said she plans to work on her communication skills because of Buffett's response.
For Girls Inc. member Makay Weliyo, standing at a microphone to welcome 800 people to an event featuring one of the world's wealthiest men would have been unimaginable where she was born and grew up — refugee camps in Kenya, where her Somali family had fled to.
She came to the United States at age 11 and joined Girls Inc. because she saw an advertisement with the program's "strong, smart and bold" slogan.
"I wanted to be smart," she said. She will graduate from Omaha South High School next spring and hopes to attend college. She has another dream, although until Monday she had "put it aside" to concentrate on other things.
"I always wanted to open a dance studio," Weliyo said, and now she may pursue that idea someday because of something Buffett said Monday.
One of the girls had asked how to become successful in business, and Buffett said one study indicated that the highest correlating factor with business success was the ages when people began working in their own business. He also said small-business owners should focus on keeping their customers happy rather than worry about the economic news of the moment.
"You learn a lot about human nature" by running a business, Buffett said, recounting his years of delivering newspapers. "You get into the game."
Weliyo said she realizes that she would have to think about her customers "and not about the money" if she opens her dance studio. She also got a chance to talk with Buffett individually before the lunch.
"I can't stop smiling," she said. "I was nervous about talking with him, but he came in there, bam! Just wow! He made it really easy to talk with him."
Girls Inc. member Makayla Bell introduced Buffett as "the money man," adding, "I am proud to say he is a home boy," born and raised in Omaha. She said she wanted to understand Buffett's estimated $50 billion net worth, so she calculated that he has as much money as 2,429,543 games of Monopoly, but it's not pink, blue and yellow.
"It's green," she said. "It's the real deal."
And Bell, who has wanted to be an attorney since she was 5, said afterward that Buffett's optimism was reassuring. "I'm glad that he thinks the economy will do well."
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