Warren Buffett watch: Promoting book's message is 3-man job

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Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013 12:00 am

Warren Buffett has pulled off another miracle, namely taking part in his second national book tour without actually having written a book.

You'll remember last year, when he and Fortune magazine editor Carol Loomis traded one-liners with cable TV comedian Jon Stewart and other appearances during the rollout of her collection of Buffett-related articles, “Tap Dancing to Work.”

Now Buffett is piggybacking on the 443-page Simon & Schuster book written by his son, Howard G., and grandson, Howard W., about their efforts to combat poverty, improve farming and help distressed people in some of the toughest places in the world.

While son and grandson were doing the hard work and spending months writing, Dad/Grandpa was enjoying his job in Omaha as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

He did manage to write a 3½-page foreword for the book.

Over the next month, the three men will occasionally be on the road spreading the word about “Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World.” Howard G. said the book is “a call to action” for the developed world to tackle serious global problems of hunger and inequality.

Last week, Warren strummed his ukulele backstage at NBC's “Today” show, showed the contents of his wallet (including a 1964-vintage credit card) to CNN's Piers Morgan, chatted with Charlie Rose and gave his opinions on current events from Obamacare to the partial government shutdown.

That's just the New York and Washington, D.C., part of the tour, which also is headed for San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and, of course, Omaha.

Unique to the Post?

Buffett made a rare admission when he said he worried about saddling his successor with ownership of the Washington Post, Buffett observer Robert Hagstrom said.

Fortune editor Loomis reported that during a recent Q&A at Washington's Metropolitan Club, Buffett said he briefly considered buying the Post because of Berkshire's long part-ownership and his relationships with its top executives.

“But Buffett said that for him to have bought it for Berkshire would have saddled the next CEO (whoever that might be, taking office at an unknown date) with a metro newspaper that he or she possibly wouldn't want.

“And to buy it personally, he added, would have at his death burdened his three children — Susie, Howard and Peter Buffett — with the same kind of complex considerations.”

Hagstrom said Buffett's next-CEO concern may be unique to the Post.

“I've never heard him say, 'I'm not going to buy a business because I'm worried about what the future CEO might do,' ” said Hagstrom, who has written investment-oriented books about Buffett and is chief strategist for Legg Mason Investment Counsel in Baltimore.

The Post, as a national news outlet in a major metropolitan area, wouldn't fit with Berkshire's collection of small and medium-sized newspapers, Hagstrom said, and may have problems that would take considerable time for Buffett and the next CEO to solve.

That concern is unlikely to apply to other businesses that Berkshire would buy or invest in, Hagstrom said, because Buffett buys businesses that run well long into the future without the help of Berkshire's CEO, either himself or the next person.

“I don't think he thinks about who in the future will run (Berkshire) as much as he thinks about the quality of the businesses,” Hagstrom said.

Memorial service postponed

An Omaha memorial service planned for this week for Forrest Krutter, corporate secretary of Berkshire Hathaway, has been postponed and a new date hasn't been set.

Krutter died Sept. 26 at age 58 of pancreatic cancer. He was a Boston native who came to Omaha after law school to work for the Union Pacific Railroad and later joined Berkshire's National Indemnity Co.

* * * * *

A book discussion

What: Public panel discussion with Howard G. Buffett and his son, Howard W., and University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken. Warren Buffett is not scheduled to attend.

When: 2:30 p.m. Nov. 8.

Where: College of Public Affairs and Community Service auditorium, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Why: To discuss Howard G. Buffett's “Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World,” which he wrote with his son

To attend: RSVP for tickets to rlong@unomaha.edu

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