Warren Watch: For church auctioning lunch with Buffett, Susie was an 'angel'

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Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2014 12:00 am

More than 20 years ago, a dark-haired woman came to services at a church at Ellis and Taylor Streets, a sketchy neighborhood of San Francisco, for several Sundays.

“I didn't even know who she was,” said the pastor, the Rev. Cecil Williams, until she came up to him one morning.

“I think I'd better tell you who I am. I'm Susie Buffett,” she said. Gesturing to the fellow behind her, she added, “And this is my husband, Warren.”

“I was in shock a little bit, to know who they were,” Williams told us last week. “That began our journey together.”

The latest stop in the journey by the Buffetts and Glide Memorial Church will be June 1-6 on eBay, when Glide's charitable foundation holds its 15th “lunch with Warren” auction.

The auction, which has raised $16 million for the foundation so far, was Susie's idea, said Williams and his wife, Janice Mirikitani, founding president of the Glide Foundation.

Winning bids have ranged from $25,000 to $3,456,789. Bids this year start at $25,000 for bidders who pre-qualify at GlideLunchWithWarrenBuffett.com. The lunch will be hosted by Smith & Wollensky, a New York City steakhouse.

Glide works with a wide range of people, including those leaving prison, people who have turned to drugs and a relatively new group: Veterans who are adrift in the civilian world.

“Poverty is very complex,” Mirikitani said.

Williams said Glide's spirit of unconditional love appealed to Susie Buffett. “She had that kind of motivation and that kind of commitment.”

She helped with daily tasks such as getting groceries for the food program and went on tour with Williams and Mirikitani to show other churches and colleges how to address needs including food, affordable housing, job training and health.

“She wanted to do volunteer work with us in any way she could,” Mirikitani said. “She cared so much about the people we were working with and their recovery. We called her our angel. She was the most compassionate person, just very inspirational.”

Warren Buffett has picked up that interest, although from afar.

“He's very genuinely concerned about the issues and about friendships and relationships,” Williams said. “He lets us know that he's going to be counted on.”

Glide's programs get wide support beyond the Buffett auction, Mirikitani said, and yet there are still unmet needs. Williams said a program dealing with youth violence ended recently for lack of funds. It would take several million dollars to restart.

“We really felt that we had something going,” he said, with more than 100 young men and women taking part. “The young folks out there needed it. We lost something there.”

'The pope as your dad'

Being Warren Buffett's son didn't seem like a big deal when Peter Buffett lived in Omaha, he said in “Ethical Wisdom,” a book by Mark Matousek. An excerpt of the interview was reprinted by Psychology Today magazine.

“It wasn't till I moved to New York that it became like having the pope as your dad, in the financial world,” he said. “I called my dad up and said, 'This is weird. I had no idea.' And he said, 'Oh, yeah. I guess you're kind of like a Rockefeller there.' More than envy, I'm more aware at the foundation of being the possible solution to someone else's problem.”

The NoVo Foundation run by Peter Buffett and his wife, Jennifer, has about $100 million to give away each year, and he said he is humbled by the work done by the people who seek funding.

“But on a personal level it can get kind of icky,” he said. “I've become way more distrustful about new relationships. I was never like that before. ... What I do feel is that pressure, the energy, of people coming to me thinking that I can solve their problem because I have resources.”

Australians join the fun

Saturday's meeting of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders, hosted by CEO Buffett, will include a growing number of Australian attendees, Glenda Korporaal reported for the Australian.

“Buffett has been on my radar since early in my career, but I didn't go to the annual meeting until last year,” said Luke Rathbone, who runs Fortitude Private Wealth in Sydney. “The chance to hear from the world's best investors (and philosophers too) in both Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger for nearly six hours is quite simply a very special experience.”

About a dozen people from Team Invest, a “high-net-worth individual investment group,” will attend, the story said, adding, “The Berkshire Hathaway meeting has become a gathering point for high-powered investors from around the world who arrive early to attend other functions.”

New start for ex-Moore CEO

Denis Abrams, “fired by Buffett” from his job as CEO of Benjamin Moore & Co., isn't fading away, Ben Fischer reported for Upstart.com.

He is teaming up with Ben Picard to start a company called Punctil Inc., which aims at making life easier for doctors and their patients by improving medical office productivity, including office waiting times and billing problems.

“There's no way I can be involved with a company just to mark time and be a caretaker of something,” said Abrams, 65. “In that case, I'd rather go mentor kids or teach kids, whatever it is.”

He and Picard put up $150,000 of their own money and are headed toward $5 million in revenue this year, the story said.

Abrams was replaced at Benjamin Moore after a disagreement over retail strategy.

Rallying 'Irish army'

Don Keough, one of 13 Berkshire directors up for re-election at Saturday's meeting, advocates a campaign to encourage people of Irish heritage to return to their homeland.

According to IrishCentral.com, Keough suggested appointing a minister of diaspora who would create a welcoming atmosphere and begin outreach efforts.

“We are everywhere across this world, this Irish army waiting to help this small country their people left from,” he told interviewer Niall O'Dowd. “Think of it — 70 million people worldwide, millions of whom are seeking a relationship with their ancestral home. What an opportunity!”

Keough, the former president of Coca-Cola, introduced Buffett to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. He is chairman of Allen & Co., a New York investment company, and former chairman of the University of Notre Dame.

He helped arrange the 2012 football game between Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy in Dublin, Ireland. His great-grandfather, Michael Keough, came to the United States during a famine in the 1840s.

Keough said that out of the people he has worked with, “Warren Buffett stands out. He is a learning machine, a great philanthropist. He has kept an amazing sense of humility.”

CVS to the rescue

While in New York last week to lunch with the winner of last year's Glide auction, Buffett also supped with longtime friend and Berkshire board member Tom Murphy at the Four Seasons restaurant, the New York Post reported.

He asked for a Cherry Coke and a Dairy Queen dessert (Berkshire owns DQ and is a big Coca-Cola shareholder), which weren't on the menu.

“We don't carry that kind of stuff, so I sent out people to CVS to buy it,” at least the beverage, Four Seasons co-owner Julian Niccolini said.

The only DQ in Manhattan is still under construction, so Buffett settled for chocolate chip cookies.

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

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