Yesterday, Charles Osgood hosted a segment on his “CBS Sunday Morning” show which was an extended interview with Warren Buffett, the third richest person in the world. I have always been a fan of Buffett’s and was delighted to see the interview with the very down to earth “Oracle of Omaha.” I felt a key part of his message was worth highlighting today to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King and the inauguration of our president for the second time.
Many know the story of one of the most successful investors in history. He made his first investment at age 11 and would have done it sooner, but it took some time to save $120 for the investment. While being interviewed, he was joined by a very good friend and his biographer. When they were asked what was Buffett’s greatest attribute, his biographer said very quickly his “rationality.” He understands the volatility of the market and he says the key is to buy stock in companies with good value, but be patient enough to buy them at the right time.
Yet, a very telling answer to a later question is the reason for mentioning Buffett today. He was asked was luck involved in his success? And, his answer at first is surprising as many very successful people today believe their success is entirely due to effort and intellect. Of course those play a heavy hand, yet Buffett said the following which I will paraphrase:
I was lucky. I was born in the right country and with the right demographics. I was born a white male. My sisters did not get the same opportunity and they were just as smart. Women did not get the same opportunities I received. If I had not been born white, I would never have gotten the same opportunities due to lack of civil rights for African-American people. So, yes there was luck involved.
I put these comments in bold as I want them highlighted on today of all days. This is the third richest man in the world who said this. To achieve these same opportunities and fairness is for what Martin Luther King and countless others marched, rallied, absorbed indignities, suffered injuries and even died. King was more than just a great orator; he was in the midst of this pushing the envelope and suffering just as much if not more than his followers. When Beyoncé sang Etta James’ famous song “At Last” at the first inauguration of Barack Obama, there was no more appropriate titled song to sing.
But, as Buffett pointed out we are nowhere near being done. He has been a broken record about the economic disparity in this country. In a nation of 315 million people with the resources we have, it is a crime that we have people in poverty. Our wealthy have never had it so good. Yet, we cannot continue to thrive as a country unless we do something about the economic disparity. We have to provide opportunity to people, so that they can live a life they can manage economically.
However, he concluded with a strong message of hope. He said we live in the greatest country in the world. There are so many good things happening every day which dwarf the negative things. He said don’t let the ineffectiveness of 535 people (in Congress) stand in the way of the successful things that are happening. We can find a way to fix this, but we have to be open and honest with what is wrong.
In my paying and volunteering jobs I have been around all kinds of people – from the presidents of companies to people making the minimum wage and some looking for work. I have seen presidents who felt they were entitled to whatever monetary gains they received, even when they had little to do with its creation and actually were value destroyers. I have also seen the most gracious of people as presidents who realize they are the stewards of their company – its people, customers and shareholders. They inspire others by being down to earth and showing the value of teamwork. Someone once said, a great leader deflects credit to others, while a bad one will assume more credit than due. Buffett falls in the gracious portion of this group. Like them, he took advantage of opportunities and worked hard, but he was given the chance by being born in the right place to the right parents and with the right gender. He is down to earth and shares the credit.
On the lower end of the economic scale, when I have helped homeless and impoverished people, I see people who did not get the same opportunities and don’t have the same kind of network looking out for them. For African Americans it goes even further; we have made strides in many respects, but we are not near where we should be. By any measure, the economic disparity is significant for this demographic group. This is a key theme of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley book, “The Rich and the Rest of Us.” Buffett realizes he had opportunity and made more than the most of it. He also sees that others need this kind of chance as well. Let’s work in a concerted manner to give people opportunity to climb the ladder out of poverty.