Warren Buffett's kids use dad's ideas to invest in giving

By Josh Funk

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 8:19 p.m. MDT

In this Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, file photo, US billionaire investor Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, attends the opening ceremony of a plant at the headquarters of cemented carbide tool supplier Tungaloy Corporation in Iwaki city, in Northern Japan.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

OMAHA, Neb. — As they work to give away part of Warren Buffett's roughly $47 billion fortune, his three children have adopted an approach that looks remarkably similar to their father's technique for making all that money.

Like Buffett, each relies on tiny staffs. And just like their father invests only in businesses he understands, they restrict their giving to their targeted projects.

Warren Buffett doesn't direct how the foundations created by Susie, Howard and Peter Buffett spend the estimated $2.6 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock they'll receive, but his children seem to have absorbed his philosophy.

"I think the only pressure I feel from him is making sure we're smart about how we spend the money," said Howard Buffett. "He's had no influence on where we give money, but he's had a big influence on how we go about it."

Buffett's children have focused on different topics, reflecting their divergent interests.

Howard Buffett is helping farmers in impoverished nations produce more to reduce world hunger. Susie Buffett is strengthening early childhood education and looking for ways to reduce teen pregnancy. And Peter Buffett wants to empower women and girls worldwide through education, collaboration and economic development to end violence against women.

"We're given this amazing opportunity to try and make change where we can," Peter Buffett said. "And being our father's children, we don't think small."

The Buffett children have all been running foundations their parents set up for them since the late 1990s, but they had to dramatically increase their giving after 2006 when Warren Buffett announced his overall giving plan and the children received their first annual gift of stock worth roughly $65 million to each of them.

They'll have to ramp up their giving again because Buffett's annual gifts of Berkshire Hathaway stock will increase to roughly $100 million to $125 million to each child next summer.

All three younger Buffetts said they're glad their father encouraged them to take risks, so they wouldn't be afraid to tackle difficult issues.

The Buffett children also said they are glad their parents had the foresight to set up separate foundations for each of them, so they could all go their own way.

Howard Buffett regularly travels to poverty-stricken parts of the world to talk with farmers and check up on projects his foundation has funded, but the 57-year-old often doesn't tell his dad where he's going until after he returns to avoid worrying him about the dangers of destinations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Howard Buffett, who raises corn and soybeans in Illinois, likes to get a close look at the challenges those farmers he's trying to help face. He said when he's travelling he's reminded of how his mother would try to help anyone in need she encountered.

"It's very hard for me to walk into those circumstances and not try to do something," he said.

In his giving, Howard Buffett tries to focus on programs that can be continued after the initial grant ends, so he doesn't support introducing expensive hybrid seeds and irrigation in places where farmers can't afford them.

Peter Buffett, 54, said the three children also have applied their father's belief in limiting his investments to areas he understands.

"You want to be as focused on an end goal as you can be," Peter Buffett said. "In a very practical way, it helps you say no."

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