WARREN WATCH

Ask Warren Buffett about his buddy, Ndamukong Suh, and you'll get a strong endorsement of the Detroit Lions lineman and former Nebraska Cornhusker.

"Have you talked with him?" Buffett asked ESPN writer Elizabeth Merrill. "You wouldn't guess he was a football player except for his size, would you? He does not seem like a guy who's going to knock somebody on his rear end."

The two were introduced through Matt Hickey, a friend and financial adviser of Suh's.

"Suh was so eager to make a strong impression that he asked Hickey to get him to the appointment 45 minutes early," Merrill wrote for ESPN's online magazine. "When they arrived with 25 minutes to spare, Suh was angry. He didn't think it was respectful enough."

Buffett said Suh lacks pretention, comparing him with another of his sports friends, NBA star LeBron James.

"He's got a lot of good qualities," Buffett said. "He is thinking ahead. LeBron's always thought ahead. There's some that really get quite mature about that very early, and others, they have wealth and fame at such an early age that they don't think much about 10 or 20 years down the road. But Ndamukong does."

The story said Suh is intent on being a successful ex-ath-lete someday, and friends like Buffett help him learn how to get there.

Suit over retirement benefits

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. planned to sell its Acme Brick Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, unless it changed its retirement plans as requested by Berkshire CEO Buffett and chief financial officer Marc Hamburg, according to a lawsuit filed in Texas.

Acme made the changes, now the subject of a lawsuit by Judy Hunter, Acme's chief financial officer and a member of the committees that administer the retirement plans; Anita Gray, assistant controller at Acme; and Bobby Lynn Allen, a retired employee, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The lawsuit said the changes violate the terms of an agreement that Berkshire signed when it acquired Acme in 2000, pledging not to reduce retirement benefits.

Acme issued a press release Friday saying it believes the lawsuit's interpretation of the purchase agreement "is clearly wrong and expects that its actions will be upheld by the courts."

The lawsuit said Acme CEO Dennis Knautz met with Buffett and Hamburg in Omaha on June 25 and was given "two ultimatums" for changes in the retirement plan "that were not negotiable."

On July 15 Acme reduced contributions to the retirement plans, the lawsuit said. Most of its 2,242 employees belong to the plans.

Warrant for Berkshire

Average investors never get warrants, at least the kind that are part of many Berkshire investments.

For Buffett, the little-known financial instruments are a way to turn a temporary business loan into long-term part-ownership.

Warrants are documents that entitle the holder to buy a certain number of shares in a company at a certain price in the future. They're often used as an inducement for an investor to put up cash that a company needs.

The latest is a warrant due to end up with Berkshire when Burger King acquires Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee-and-donut chain.

Buffett has pledged $3 billion toward the Hortons purchase and, besides annual $270 million payments on the investment, would receive a warrant that entitles Berkshire to buy 1.75 percent of the combined company's stock.

Burger King's value on the stock market is about $11.7 billion. Combined with Tim Hortons' $11.5 million purchase price, that's a company worth $23.2 billion. If Berkshire bought 1.75 percent today, that would cost about $400 million.

The exact amount won't be known until the new parent company issues stock to be traded on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges. In Buffett's eyes, a company that's worth a $3 billion investment also should be worth owning stock that would reflect its future growth.

The terms of the warrant haven't been made public, so there's no indication of its actual value to Berkshire. For example, if the warrant allows Berkshire to buy the stock for $1 a share, it's increasingly valuable if the share price increases to, say, $10 a share.

That's like buying dollars with dimes, as Buffett would say.

Life amazes hard worker

Count Bill Child as one of the octogenarians who still shows up for work every day.

As head of Berkshire's RC Willey furniture empire in Utah, Child told the Utah Business magazine, "It's amazing what life has in store for you."

He grew up on a farm and, while studying at college to become a teacher, worked at an appliance store for his father-in-law, Rufus Call Willey, in a 600-square-foot cinderblock building on a nine-party telephone line.

He had a teaching job lined up, but his father-in-law got sick and died of cancer in 1950, leaving Child, at age 22, in charge of the store, which owed $9,000 on a loan.

"The bank was nervous and pressing us for payments; all of the statements were in the red, so I started writing checks," Child said. "Then the banker called me and said I couldn't write checks if we didn't have money."

He said his college degree gave him confidence.

"I called him back and said, 'I'm going to be real frank with you. If I close the business you're not going to get anything because there is nothing here. I'm sorry to admit that, but from what I know we owe a lot more than we have,' " Child said.

The hard work began, giving customers good deals but, unlike his father-in-law, making sure he collected payments. He added a line of furniture, expanded the store and kept growing.

The company had $51 million in sales by the end of 1984 and $1 billion a decade later.

"We'd been growing about 17 percent a year, and we'd never had a mortgage on a building," he said. "If we couldn't pay for it, we didn't build it. Every RC Willey building is paid for."

He received offers to buy but turned them down, eventually coming in contact with Buffett and selling the store to Berkshire in 1995 for $175 million in Berkshire stock, which was then priced at $22,000 a share.

Child stepped down as CEO of RC Willey in 2001 but remains chairman. Soon after, he began some real estate development ventures, saying, "I got a little bored not having to work 12 hours a day."

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

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