Warren Buffett's faith in Israeli economy wins praise

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Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:00 am

Warren Buffett's investment in an Israeli company helped make him one of 100 people having the most positive influence on Jews in 2013, according to Algemeiner, a Jewish-focused newspaper in New York City.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. paid $4 billion for Iscar Metalworking Co. of Israel in 2010, a commercial endorsement of a country that depends heavily on foreign investment, said Dovid Efune, editor in chief of the 40-year-old newspaper.

“The Israeli economy is very important to Jewish well-being,” he said. “Having somebody like Warren Buffett making that sort of statement of faith in the Israeli economy is incredibly valuable. He's a leader. Others follow.”

During a visit to Israel that year, Berkshire Chairman and CEO Buffett said, “If you're going to the Middle East to look for oil, you can skip Israel. If you're looking for brains, look no further. Israel has shown that it has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”

Algemeiner, a Yiddish word which translates as “General” and is a common name for newspapers in some countries, compiled the list of influential Jews and non-Jews from around the world to mark its 40th anniversary.

Others on the list include TV counselor Dr. Ruth Westheimer, movie director Steven Spielberg, President Barack Obama and Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel.

Jobs for Israeli Arabs

Speaking of Iscar, its founder is opening an industrial park near Nazareth that would employ local Arab residents, Bloomberg news reported.

Stef Wertheimer said he plans to attract companies that make exportable products using “the skills of the people of Nazareth and surrounding area.” He operates five other industrial parks in Israel and one in Turkey.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population. Half of them live below the official poverty line, and high unemployment is a persistent problem.

The new park would hold about 25 companies and employ about 1,000 people. Tenants already signed up are Amdocs Ltd., which makes customer-services software, and Alpha Omega Ltd., which makes precision medical instruments.

Path led to CEO's office

Count Northwestern Mutual CEO John Schlifske as one of those young people whose career was influenced by Warren Buffett.

Schlifske, who was in Omaha last week for a speaking engagement with magazine editor Steve Forbes, heard Buffett speak at Northwestern University in Chicago years ago. Schlifske was studying management and was interested in investing, but wasn't sure about a career path.

Buffett told the students that insurance companies need good investment people, and he should know. As chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Buffett relies on a steady flow of insurance premiums for much of the money he invests in other businesses.

Schlifske took the advice and joined Northwestern in 1987 as an investment specialist, rising to chief of its investment division and, in 2010, to the top job.

Youths have Buffett's ear

Fourteen youngsters with bright ideas will come to Omaha next month to explain their business plans to Buffett. It's the second year of a nationwide business contest for children by the Secret Millionaires Club.

Buffett, who gives voice to his cartoon image for the online business education series, will meet the individual and team finalists and their teachers and parents, chosen from thousands of entries. From May 6-13, you can vote online for your favorite business idea. Winners will receive prizes up to $5,000.

Last year one of the finalists was from Omaha, but this year none is from Nebraska or Iowa. The finalists, between ages 7 and 16, are from Kentucky, Ohio, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas and New Jersey.

Their ideas include entrepreneur kits, a bed bug exposing device, “cupcakes for literacy” and a swimming pool accident prevention association.

Another top-notch giver

British Lord Michael Anthony Ashcroft plans to sign the Giving Pledge, originated by Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the Sunday Times of London reported.

The voluntary pledge commits signers to give at least half of their fortunes to charity. Ashcroft's holdings total $1.85 billion.

Among the charities he already supports are Crimestoppers, Anglia Ruskin University and the Bomber Command war memorial and Imperial War Museum in London.

Ashcroft's business interests include a security company, a cleaning service, car dealerships and investments.

New book on value investing

Another Buffett-related book (besides you-know-what) is “Art & Science of Value Investing: Investing Like Billionaire Warren Buffett” (Lulu, 300 pages, $34.95) by Scott Thompson, managing director of Intrinsic Value Capital Management of Minneapolis.

The book's goal, Thompson said, is to explain in clear language how Buffett and other experts figure out true values so people can “identify high-quality undervalued businesses.”

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com

Join Steve Jordon at 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays for a live chat about all things Warren Buffett.

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