Warren Watch: Buffett investing his time in sports, NCAA bracket contest

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Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2014 12:00 am

Sports is occupying Warren Buffett's time these days, what with attending Creighton University's final 2014 home game and touting Quicken Loans' $1billion contest to pick every winner in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Buffett and his wife, Astrid, were invited to the game by the Rev. Timothy Lannon, Creighton's president. They were courtside 90 minutes before the game started, posing for photos with star player Doug McDermott and others near the scorer's table.

McDermott gave Buffett an autographed photo with the inscription, “To Warren: Thanks a million billion for your support!” (With million crossed out.)

The Buffetts retreated to their seats across from the visiting team's bench and, in between more photos with fans, watched McDermott score 45 points against Providence to end the regular season with a win.

Earlier, Buffett had said he liked Creighton for the Final Four, and later in the week he gave Mike Greenberg and Mark Schlereth (subbing for Mike Golic) an 11-minute phone interview on ESPN's “Mike & Mike” program.

He covered topics from Ndamukong Suh (“I like Ndamukong a lot”) to local baseball (“Omaha would be a different city without the College World Series”) to the proper temperament for investing (“You have to be able to keep your head when ... people are exceedingly enthusiastic and exceedingly depressed”).

Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the Omaha conglomerate Buffett heads, sold an insurance policy to Quicken Loans that will pay $1 billion if someone fills out a perfect NCAA bracket.

Buffett said the odds are difficult to calculate because it's not a random contest. Knowledge about the teams improves the chances of winning. He made a calculation and another Berkshire expert made a calculation, but their numbers didn't agree.

(The contest's official rules put the odds of a grand prize winner at 1:9,223,372,036,854,775,808, “which may vary depending upon the knowledge and skill of entrant.”)

In the end, Berkshire quoted a price for the insurance and Quicken paid, partly to end up with millions of email addresses and other potential marketing data. If 15 million people enter, as expected, there might be a winner, Buffett said.

If someone has a perfect bracket up to the Final Four, Greenberg asked, would Buffett offer a settlement rather than risk the whole billion? That's up to Quicken, Buffett said. “If they gave me the go-ahead, I could be negotiated with. ... I might make him an offer.”

Otherwise, he said with a chuckle, “I hope somebody comes very close.”

Advice worth billions to Graham family

Buffett is closing the chapter on his role with the company that formerly owned the Washington Post, headed by members of the Graham family.

Don Graham told ozy.com last week that he and his mother, the late Katharine Graham, who was CEO of the Post, first learned about Buffett in 1973 when she opened an introductory letter from him saying he had just bought more than 10 percent of the Post.

“We each read three newspapers every day,” Graham told interviewer Carlos Watson. “Neither one of us had even heard of Warren Buffett.”

Buffett soon joined the Post's board of directors and developed a close relationship with the Grahams and their business.

“He quickly became not merely a director of the company but the person my mother would turn to for advice on acquisitions, advice on major management moves and quite a few unimportant management moves that she was going to make,” Graham said. “And his advice was worth billions to our company.”

Advice from a top female entrepreneur

Maria Rios considers Buffett a mentor since she met him after being named by Fortune magazine last year as one of the most powerful women entrepreneurs in the country.

Rios' family immigrated to the United States from El Salvador, and she became involved in waste removal as a University of Houston student. When she graduated, she bought two trucks and started her own company.

“Where you see trash, I see opportunity,” she told the Houston Business Journal. Buffett's help has inspired her to help others, she said. “It's how America succeeds: helping everyone achieve their goals.” Some of her advice:

>> Volunteer to go to seminars, and ask the experts questions. Don't be shy.

>> Once you have a mentor, meet with him or her once a month or every two weeks, and have questions.

>> Be respectful of the mentor's time, be prepared and take advantage of it. Pay close attention. Don't waste a second.

>> Approach groups to offer your help. It's not just about paying it forward, but giving it back to your community.

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

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