“Growing Up Buffett”: New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

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Who will succeed Warren Buffett as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway?

That’s still up in the air, but we can tell you the two people who won’t be running Berkshire:

1. The discredited David Sokol.

2. Peter Buffett, Warren’s son.

Peter Buffett, son of Warren, is a musician. (Photo: C. Taylor Crothers Photography)

Peter Buffett, at 53, is the youngest of three Buffett kids, and he’s the star of our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Growing Up Buffett.” (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via on the media player at the top, or read the transcript here) He’s a musician, author, and philanthropist, and we spoke to him for an upcoming hour-long radio program called “The Church of Scionology.” It’s about family business, and takes a hard look at what happens when the scion of a family takes over upon the founder’s departure. We mine the academic literature on the topic and talk to people around the world about the ins and outs of family business.

There’s no such scioniology happening in the Buffett family, however, and Peter talks candidly (and interestingly) about how he and his brother and sister (all of whom are at least part-time philanthropists) gradually figured out what their father was all about, and then considered whether the family business was right for them. Excerpts from the podcast:

DUBNER: Talk to me for a minute about your degree of interest in Berkshire growing up.

BUFFETT: Well, you know, growing up we really didn’t know what my dad did. It was quite mysterious. He read a lot, which he still does. And I will say if you walk in the house today you will see the same thing that I saw in 1965. He’s just this consistent human being in spades. It was incredible.  But we didn’t know what he did. In fact, when my sister filled out a form, I think in fourth or fifth grade, about what our parents did, she put “security analysis,” and it was assumed that what he did was check alarm systems. So to a kid it was like “what do all the numbers on the page mean? And what exactly is the New York Stock Exchange and buying and selling and all that?” So we really didn’t know.

DUBNER: Now, at some point you figured it out. I’m guessing that may have been gradual. Tell me about that.

BUFFETT: It was very gradual. People will ask me “what was it like growing up in this household?”  “When did you realize that your father had amassed all this wealth?”  And the answer is that I was probably about 25.

Peter Buffett did briefly entertain following his father into the investing world but decided he was more interested in music. His father, he says, supported this decision and never pressured Peter or his siblings to do something they weren’t passionate about.

BUFFETT: Well, you know, my dad talks about the “ovarian lottery.” This idea that you’re, you know, born into these circumstances that you can’t, at least as far as I’m concerned, you can’t control when you’re on the other side of being born. And so I think there’s a version of that that holds true in this. You know, the odds of having a son or daughter that are as passionate, and excited and driven as the founder of a business was, or even the person that took it over—whatever that might be, whatever passion and drive was there in that person—the odds of that being in the next generation, I think are incredibly small.  But I think that if the child is truly passionate about it and lives and breathes the same thing, absolutely. But again, what are the odds?

I have to say, it’s nice to hear a grown man talk so admiringly about his father. FWIW, here’s Peter (on piano), Warren (on ukulele), and Akon (on beats) working through “Ain’t She Sweet.”


Mark

He's a philanthropist? His father is a philanthropist. He is a goofball.

Bradrick K Jordan

I've never passed judgement on folks with out first knowing them first. Being a goofball is this the way he chose to be or the way I wants to be perceived ?

J

Love the links. Are they real, or some sort of parody of trust fund ba..., er, filthy rich people who run charities funded by their multibillionaire father who loathes inherited wealth, who blather about how meaningless wealth is? I suppose if you've never been poor you can't be blamed for that sort of misconception.

Bradrick K, Jordan

Well never thought about being rich or poor. I would guess next to Warren I'm about 2 points above plant life LOL. Don't have the sllightest idea of what rich poeple do daily but I also don't know what dirt poor people do either. I would guess try to be as happy as one can. I can't pass judgement on anyone.

AaronS

I lost ALL RESPECT for Buffet when he, petulant billionaire that he is, DISOWNED his grand-daughter because she had the--GASP!--audacity to speak with the maker of film called "The One Percent," which is about the differences between the very wealthy and everyone else.

ANYONE that would disown a grandchild just because they spoke their mind (quite innocuously, as it turns out) does not have a heart of humanity. Your philanthropy is a SHAM, Mr. Buffet. You have already shown that you don't have the heart of someone who TRULY cares. Shame on you.

As some witty pastor said, "God loves a cheerful giver, but we'll take your money even if you're grumpy." Along those same lines, the world loves a someone with a true heart for people, but we'll take your money anyway.

Lint

I disagree. Buffett's name is a carefully curated brand. She should not have repaid his generosity to her by going off the reservation and publicly talking about him and the family, with no approval or coordination with him. A family -- especially a celebrity family -- needs to coordinate how it presents itself to outsiders.

jin

Firstly she was paid for it. Secondly she was adopted and chose to speak about her family that she knew was intensely private. Warren Buffet wrote to let her know he didn't adopt her and therefore did not confer unto her any right to speak on him as family that she would inherit something from.

Bradrick K Jordan

I feel extremely the same way. Knowing how the family is she screwed up. Got what she wanted just not the way she wanted it. I think its rather funny. LOL

Jason

Peter thinks that there's a very small chance for a child to become passionate in the same things as the parent.
If the parent completely excludes its offspring from their passions to the point that the child(ren) have no idea what the parent does for a living, then it's not going to help.
Seems like Warren did Peter a service. Peter seems much more richer for the exclusion he and his siblings experienced.