World's second richest man living humbly in Nebraska

2004-04-30T00:00:00Z World's second richest man living humbly in Nebraska Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier
April 30, 2004 12:00 am

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The world's second richest man lives humbly in the Midwest city where he grew up, driving his own car, paying $12 for a haircut and stopping by his local drug store for newspapers.

Investment wizard Warren Buffett, estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $42.9 billion, leads a quiet life devoted largely to running Berkshire Hathaway Inc. while making investments based on his reading of financial reports, books and business periodicals.

Buffett, 72, lives in the same ungated house he bought in 1958 in Omaha, although he has remodeled and added rooms and a handball court.

"I think he really wants the peace and quiet to read and not be swayed by Wall Street or the markets," said Andrew Kilpatrick, author of "Of Permanent Value, The Story Of Warren Buffett."

"It's sort of like being in a library," Kilpatrick said about Buffett's view of Omaha, a city of 390,000.

Buffett is known around the world as the man who built a 1956 partnership of four relatives and three close friends into a holding company worth about $100 billion. Berkshire owns furniture, carpet, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants, natural gas and corporate jet firms.

Yet Buffett often shuffles about in his spare time in sweat pants and a sweat shirt. He rarely appears in public, minds his own business and according to Kilpatrick, pumps his own gas for his car.

Buffett is not fancy. He is a longtime fan of hamburgers, french fries and Cherry Cokes. He plays bridge in his spare time, strums the ukulele and visits with family and friends.

Buffett gives interviews sparingly, and he declined one for this story. But he often uses his company's widely read annual report to give his views on corporate governance, national tax policies and accounting practices.

Every year Buffett opens himself to any and all questions from shareholders for six hours at his company's annual meeting in Omaha.

The event, which will be Saturday, draws more than 10,000 stockholders who flock to a convention center to hear what the "Oracle of Omaha" has to say about Berkshire, investment strategies and any other topic they care to raise.

Buffett lives only a five-minute drive from his office, but he travels the globe and attends business meetings all over the country. He owns two homes in Laguna Beach, Calif., and he is close friends with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, the world's richest man.

Buffett made headlines last year when his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger named him to a panel for economic advice during Schwarzenegger's successful bid for the California governorship.

"He has access to the world when he wants it," Kilpatrick said.

However, most of what Buffett appears to want is in Omaha. He has friends and his favorite steak restaurant - Gorat's - and he can move about in relative anonymity, often engrossed in his own thoughts and work.

"He's a real, real down to earth type of guy," said Stan Dosekal, who cuts Buffett's hair - usually on Saturday's - at the two-chair Kiewit Plaza Barber Shop. "He's very focused. Usually on what he's thinking."

Always Buffett is polite and straightforward, Dosekal said. He pays $12 for a haircut. Dosekal declined to discuss whether Buffett tips.

Many people who encounter Buffett in town say they don't want to bother him because they are certain the next person the billionaire runs into will most likely pester him.

"What I try to do is make this a comfortable place for him. He probably gets harassed wherever he goes," said Vince Jorn, a pharmacist at Kohll's "Cris" Pharmacy, a few blocks from Buffett's home.

Buffett sometimes drops in on weekends to buy The New York Times or Barron's magazine and a bag of nuts or a candy bar, Jorn said. "He keeps to himself," Jorn said. "He doesn't make much small talk. He says 'hello' and 'have a nice day."'

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